First, let me say “spoiler alert” if one wants to see "Se7en" (1995) without knowing what was - at the time of its 1995 release - a shocker. If you haven't seen it, be prepared to be appalled and awed. For those who have, additional viewings reveal subtlety of character development, the beauty of the cinematography and foreshadowing that may have been obscured by the shocking crimes.
The focus of this review is Kevin Spacey since the film is being presented at the KiMo Theater as part of a Kevin Spacey retrospective. Spacey has sociopath/psychopath down cold with his flat delivery of lines (except when describing his crimes) and eyes devoid of emotion. Think “House of Cards,” at least with respect to the personal “moral” code and single-mindedness. But in “Se7en” (1995), Spacey as John Doe is beyond horrifying.
While my favorite film of Spacey’s is “Usual Suspects,” “Se7en” is my second favorite despite my aversion to brutality. It was a box office success. It also received critical acclaim for the writing (Andrew Kevin Walker), directing (David Fincher) and stellar performances of Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey (though he is in a supporting role). "Se7en" was also nominated for numerous awards for acting, directing, original screenplay, cinematography, editing, and more . Here's a link to all those accolades and several wins.
Director David Fincher sets the grim story in a dank and rainy city filled with pessimism and sparse pockets of hope. In this setting, worn-out Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is about to retire. David Mills (Brad Pitt) is young, energetic and new to the city detective job. He has moved to the depressing city with his reluctant wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), ready to tackle the job with enthusiasm.
After a grisly murder is revealed, Detective Morgan chooses to stay on and finish up the case, especially when it is revealed that this is only the first of a series of murders with a disturbing rationale based on the seven deadly sins. The film, though, is not just a detective story about finding a killer.
“Se7en” is more about the interplay between the two very different detectives - the jaded loner Somerset, who has seen too much depravity, and the idealistic and brash Mills, who is ready to rid the world of bad guys.
Somerset is methodical and detailed. Mills is a hot-head and lacks the ability to see and understand nuances.
It is also about the twisted mind of John Doe, who taunts and tortures. While Spacey’s character only appears in the last quarter of the film, he magnificently portrays an insane man with his own warped rationale for his actions.
Interesting, Detective Somerset has more in common with John Doe than with Detective Mills. They are both "methodical, exacting, patient," having precise regimented routines and deep intelligence. There is more than a suggestion that Somerset has a morally ambiguous past which may be why he begins to understand what Doe’s next actions will be.
A noir sensibility and horror pervade “Se7en.” The crimes committed by John Doe are sick and I am thankful that for some we only catch a glance of the aftermath. Why more directors don’t leave more to the imagination is beyond me. Cutting away from an explicit view of brutality can, in fact, be more effective for evoking the horror.
“Se7en” has a dark beauty. Fincher and cinematographer Darius Khondji evoke the sensibility of an Edward Hopper painting. The city, the buildings, the library interior, the hallways - all convey a certain melancholy. Boarded-up windows add to the sense of decay. Underexposed streets, corners and rooms abound. Loneliness pervades. Rooms sometimes are lit just from a crack of light or a flashlight. Many of the people appear resigned to just plodding along, expecting the worst. It rains a lot. Crime scenes are a gloomy monotone interrupted by shades of red.
There is one opportunity to see “Se7en” in Albuquerque on the big screen. It opens the KiMo’s Kevin Spacey retrospective tonight, May 24 at 7:00 pm. Tickets range from $5 to $7 and can be purchased at the box office next to the theater at 423 Central Avenue. Go to the KiMo’s website or call (505) 768-3522 for more information.
Also screening in coming weeks at the KiMo Theater for this retrospective are “LA Confidential” (Saturday, June 14 at 7:00 pm), “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (Saturday, June 21 at 7:00 pm), "American Beauty" (Saturday, June 28 at 7:00 pm), “Pay It Forward” (Saturday, July 12), and “K-PAX” (Saturday, July 26 at 7:00 pm). It is possible that more Spacey films may be added when the KiMo completes its August schedule.