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REVIEW: Se7en

I’ll come out with it now. Despite the fact that I’m excited for the release of The Social Network, I’ve never quite been a fan of David Fincher. In fact, I’ve always been the anomaly among my friends in not quite liking any of his movies. The closest I’ve come yet is Fight Club, and even then, I prefer the Dust Brothers’ original soundtrack to the final film itself. Fight Club fans are probably the worst case of missing the point in the world. The majority I’ve met worship Tyler Durden as a hero, yet the movie itself paints him as a reckless monkey not to be emulated or imitated in any way. All that means is that whenever I want to talk about the movie, it has to be with a film major.

Se7en is Fincher’s feature previous to Fight Club, and it, too, has its share of fans. A lot of whom are my friends. This isn’t going to be an easy one. Se7en is the story of two detectives, Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt). Somerset is the older, wiser and more jaded one. Mills is the hot-headed, young and defiant one. In Mills’ first week, he and Somerset attempt to solve a series of brutal homicides, patterned around the seven deadly sins, hence the title. I don’t know why the digit 7 takes the place of the v but it may just be an extra u, e for a thing, you know? Makes the poster look cool.

The movie’s stock and trade, as usual for a Fincher feature, is the characters. They don’t necessarily have complex motivations or anything, but they’re what’s on display and not large action setpieces. I suppose this is a reason I should like Fincher. From his breakthrough film, he’s relied on actors and not explosions to sell tickets. It’s a shame he’s not the world’s best actor’s director. The roles in his movies always come across as wooden, lifeless. While he’s definitely improved in this regard over time, Brad Pitt is the victim here. If you’ve seen the movie (everyone and their mum’s, just like Reservoir Dogs), you know the scene I mean when I say that toward the end is a wooden line-reading on par with “Oh god, oh man” or “Then they’re gonna eat me!” I love Brad. Read my review of Inglourious Basterds, see if I don’t. He hadn’t quite got it yet, though, and needed more guidance than he received on this set.

The film is notable primarily for the sick and sadistic nature of the murders portrayed on screen. And I should warn you, not a one of them are actually portrayed on screen, yet their after-effects will stay with you long after the movie is over. Sadly, what these do is simultaneously falsely bill the movie as proto-toture porn and overshadow the “deeper”, “philosophical” discussions that take place between Somerset and Wells. Is the movie really deep or philosophical? It’s about as deep as Everything is Borrowed, but takes itself far too seriously for its intro-level debate.

The murders themselves are, in addition to language, what garnered the film the R rating. Fincher has called himself a perfectionist (or at least, I remember him doing so somewhere), which is how you know that these things are the most gruesome and vile images they can be. I admire that kind of artistic sensibility. If you’re gonna do it at 50%, you can go for 100%. And if you go to full-out awful, taking it beyond there can only make your film more memorable. I agree with that. However, I would greatly appreciate it if Fincher had taken the time out to lead his actors as he lead his effects team. Indeed, Fincher’s earlier work seems defined by a philosophy of style over substance. The look is just so, the mis-en-scene just right. The fog filtering through the dust in the station, reflected on the tile floor receives more attention than the two detectives leading the feature through its emotional highs and lows.

Se7en is a movie I don’t want to spoil, so any discussion of its merits is bound to lead to doubletalk and careful avoidance of issues in the movie. The script thinks it’s smarter than it is, and indeed fooled many people with that approach. I don’t see a great philosophic battle between three points of view. It reads much better as a simple detective movie. Maybe I expect too much? However, the performance at the end from an actor just breaking out into Hollywood as a twist ending in two separate features is delightful.

I’ve said it before, and constantly throughout this review, I know, but I’m still just not a fan of David Fincher. And while I recognize that his movies never quite appeal to me, I also recently came to appreciate him as a filmmaker. It was through talking to Mel about cinematic risk that I realized his real worth. America needs B+ filmmakers, as badly as contests need runners up. David Fincher is at least brave–more brave than a lot of his peers, and enough to make a name for himself making movies others won’t touch. While the results of his cinematic bravery depend all too much on the skills of the screenwriter, actors, cinematographers and editors involved, he’s still managed to build a reputation for courage in filmmaking. Enough so, that his name is a guaranteed ticket sell, and a bankable opening weekend risk for a studio to take.

And that’s really what’s important about David Fincher. Whether or not I find his films to be successful doesn’t matter. His films are character based dramas, and that’s more than can be said for the movies of almost every other “name” director in Hollywood today. Like Se7en, his films are all resolutely character-driven, and yet are seen by studios as marketable beyond all else. When even the director of Titanic has to personally fund half of his movies because the studios think the director of the number one grossing film of all time is a financial risk, it’s good to know that character and philosophy driven movies are still being supported. Even if it is by an average to middling filmmaker like Fincher.

It’s worth watching once. My second time through, I realize that’s all I should’ve given it. TWO AND A HALF STARS

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