Nearly 30 years after the movie’s release, Se7en stands the test of time by being David Fincher’s first significant breakthrough hit. A murder mystery, the film leans on great performances and rainy imagery.
Despite being David Fincher’s sophomore movie as a director, Se7en often feels like his first. It’s much more entrenched in the tone and narrative beats we’ve come to understand that he’s interested in – it’s procedural to the point of self-parody in retrospect. It’s straightforward and linear, letting brilliant performances and damp sets take over and establish a mood of existential dread.
Which makes it so interesting as a counter to Alien 3, David Fincher’s actual first feature film. Se7en is angrily lashing out at mainstream filmmaking, daring moviegoers and industry heads to take him seriously as an auteur moving forward. He’s taking aim at what we find idyllic in society: promising career choices, retirement, faith, living in the big city, etc.
He flips all of these wants on their heads, building out the dreary, ambiguous and unidentified city that serves as the setting, one that swallows you whole the moment you step inside. Se7en follows Detectives William Somerset and David Mills (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) as they chase the tail of serial killer murdering on the basis of the seven deadly sins.
William Somerset and David Mills are at differing points in their careers. Somerset is stable, having spent his years at the station building good graces and enough equity to finally retire and live out his days in harmony. This murder case is supposed to mark his last, a quick and easy job where he can train the new hotheaded, arrogant detective trying to take the city by storm.
Which is, of course, David Mills – who learns throughout Se7en that the daily life of a police detective isn’t like it is in the movies. It’s grueling, often leading to nights on end without any leads or new information. Both detectives are effortlessly realized by the actors playing them. Morgan Freeman instills in Somerset a feeling of being broken down, battered by the years he’s spent trying to clean the streets up to no avail.
Brad Pitt sinks into his role as David Mills, using his own fame at the time to leverage a character that seems too cool and collected on the surface, but constantly chasing something underneath, as if this case is instantly personal for him.
The two form a bond – Somerset eventually realizing that he’s never had a case this deranged and twisted before, while Mills is having second thoughts about his career choices as this is his first case as a member of the department. Again, two people at completely different spots in their lives both impacted on a deeply personal and humane level by the string of murders.
Reviews for Movies like Se7en
And David Fincher’s directing style meshes so well with the story at hand. He’s got an eye for the perverse, offering imagery and set pieces that feel authentic to the narrative, while still being outlandish when isolated. Like an episode of CSI or Criminal Minds – in theory, this movie shouldn’t be as sophisticated and nuanced, but Fincher’s instincts towards what people find interesting on a primal level is what wins out in Se7en.
The ending will live on in infamy for good reason. On rewatch, Pitt’s final exclamations do kinda pull me out of the movie, especially given how it’s aged in pop culture in the years since. It helped Se7en gain traction in the public consciousness, but it strays from the movie’s generally self-serious tone.
The movie is shot by Darius Khondji, who builds shot after shot with deeply saturated and darkened color palettes. It’s raining 24 hours a day in Se7en, and it wears on you as the viewer as you go through it. It’s daunting, but in an impactful way, as if you’re just happy to have survived the movie when the credits start rolling.
Se7en isn’t quite my favorite David Fincher movie, but hovers somewhere right below the tier of his best works. There are quite a few patterns in his later movies that directly stem from Se7en, like the black and white color designs that overwhelm The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or the arrogant characters that liven The Social Network. It’s a blueprint for what makes David Fincher tick, and what he thinks makes us tick.
Where to stream Se7en: VOD
Film Cast and Credits
Brad Pitt as Detective David Mills
Morgan Freeman as Detective Lt. William Somerset
Gwyneth Paltrow as Tracy Mills
R. Lee Ermey as Police Captain
John C. McGinley as California
Kevin Spacey as John Doe
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce
Composer: Howard Shore
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Se7en movie on IMDb