Warner Bros. // 1995 // 127 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 17th, 2010
Seven deadly sins. Seven ways to die.
"Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you have their strict attention."
Detective Lt. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption) is only seven days away from retirement. He's grown sick of having to witness the worst of humanity each and every day; he's ready to move to the middle of nowhere and enjoy some time away from the rot of the inner city. His new partner is an eager if slightly dim young man named Mills (Brad Pitt, Kalifornia), who requested to be transferred to this particular district. Somerset thinks Mills must be crazy or stupid for making such a request.
The two detectives are handed a strange new murder case. An overweight man is found dead inside his own home -- apparently someone force-fed the man until his stomach literally exploded. The word "glutton" is written on the man's wall. The next day, a wealthy lawyer is murdered. The word "greed" is written on the lawyer's floor. It's quickly determined that the crimes are being committed by a serial killer intent on punishing people for committing the Seven Deadly Sins; a twisted sermon of sorts with deadly bullet points. Can Somerset and Mills find the killer before he completes his murderous mission?
David Fincher's Se7en may be best-remembered for its diabolical plot (the long-running Saw franchise owes an awful lot to it), but over time the film has proven itself as far more than a particularly violent, gimmick-driven thriller. This is a deeply intelligent, genuinely unnerving motion picture that has a lot going on beneath the surface. Yes, it's a thriller about two detectives hunting down a serial killer, but it's also a cynical meditation on human nature and a fascinating cinematic exploration of depravity.
Fincher's films are often classically beautiful, but Se7en is noteworthy for its almost overwhelming visual portrait of grime and despair. This is a world of mud, insects, trench coats, vomit, rain, dried blood, broken glass, dark rooms, mildew, rotting flesh, urine, and shadows -- nauseous noir. When Somerset insists that he just can't take this city any more, we have no problem understanding why. The film so successfully captures the sheer ugliness of this particular setting that we sometimes want to look away ourselves. Somerset has seen a lot of things, but his immunity to it has finally worn down -- he has to leave before the sickness infects him, too.
The murders depicted in the film are particularly graphic and disturbing, which is all the more noteworthy when you consider that we don't actually witness the killings. We only see the aftermath, which in its way is more disturbing than detailed demonstrations of what happened would have been -- our imaginations fill in the blanks and provide us with details more troubling that such scenes would have actually offered. There's a reason the film is rated R for "grisly afterviews of horrific and bizarre killings." Fincher's downbeat direction, the pitiless screenplay and Howard Shore's oppressive score successfully allow the viewer to experience a growing sense of dread that grabs hold early on and doesn't let up until the end.
Pitt might have been the bigger box office draw at the time, but it's Freeman's performance that anchors the film. His Somerset is a rather sophisticated man living in an unsophisticated world; a fact few around him seem to recognize. There's a good deal of expressiveness in his eyes, but always underlined by a sense of weariness. Pitt's performance is typical of his '90s work -- energetic and jittery, suggesting a man who operates on impulses rather than carefully measured thoughts. It fits the role nicely, though he's less compelling than Freeman. Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't have a lot to do, though her scenes do permit the film to briefly allow slivers of sunshine to slip in. Just in case there's someone out there who doesn't know the identity of the killer, I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that his performance is one of the actor's most effective.
Fincher's films have generally received impressive hi-def transfers thus far, and thankfully Se7en is no exception. The film arrives on Blu-ray sporting a very fine 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that offers a wonderfully natural, filmic look. This probably Fincher's darkest film visually, and the excellent detail brings out the specifics of scenes that have previously seemed just a tad too murky. Blacks are very deep and shadow delineation is superb. No matter how dark the film gets, the detail never falters. Audio is equally impressive, making the often overbearing sound design more effective than ever. The sound design is exceedingly complex and nuanced and receives the sort of rich mix it deserves. The only flaw is that the music occasionally overpowers the dialogue just a bit much, but that's been the case on every mix of the film I've heard.
The excellent supplemental package from the lavish 2-disc DVD release has thankfully been preserved, kicking off with no less than four audio commentaries: "The Actors" with Pitt, Freeman and Fincher, "The Sound" with Ren Klyce, Howard Shore, Richard Dyer and Fincher, "The Story" with Fincher, Dyer, Andrew Kevin Walker, Richard Francis-Bruce, and Michael de Luca and finally "The Picture" with Fincher, Darius Khondji, Arthur Max, Dyer, and Francis-Bruce. Whew! In addition, you get a featurette called "Production Designs" (9 minutes) that offers a look at some of the film's locations and sets, five extensive still galleries featuring commentary from various crew members, 20 minutes of deleted scenes, 13 minutes of animated storyboards, a vintage EPK promo piece (7 minutes), a series of brief pieces on mastering the film for its home video release and a series of brief pieces which allow viewers to watch scenes from the film with varying audio mixes and camera angles. Oh, and a theatrical trailer. The whole thing is wrapped up in Warner Bros. handsome digibook packaging, containing the usual full-color booklet detailing the making of the film.
Watching Se7en 15 years after its release confirmed for this viewer that the film hasn't become any less effectively disturbing over time. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's a must-have for those capable of appreciating its virtues. Warner Bros. has done a fine job on the Blu-ray release, making it easy to recommend an upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
* German (SDH)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Galleries