Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Se7en" (1995)

Cast, crew can take pride in “Se7en”

Standard-Examiner staff

There is a serial killer on the loose. He’s imaginative, devoted and, as one of the homicide detectives working the case gravely intones, “He’s patient.”

As bizarre and abnormal as these serial murders are, this killer has made them even more of a novelty, basing each on one of the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins”: gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and wrath.

That’s the premise of “Se7en,” a well-made but grisly, disturbing thriller starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as the cops assigned to crack the case before the killer can dispatch all seven of his intended victims.

Lt. William Somerset (Freeman) is a meticulous investigator who’s a scant six days from retirement. David Mills (Pitt) is the much younger detective Somerset is training to take his place. Somerset is well-read, cool, methodical, a natty dresser. Mills doesn’t know literature, is a hot-head, impatient and a slob.

They don’t get along well, but when it becomes clear there’s a mass murderer on the loose, they form an uneasy alliance.

“Se7en,” the sophomore effort by director David Fincher (“Alien3”), is an utterly compelling tour through a twisted, crazed world of sadism and madness.

Here’s an example: The killings start with an enormously fat man who the police theorize was forced to eat himself to death. While we do not witness the torture, we are treated to a fairly explicit view of the crime scene, (black and white) photographic evidence and his nude remains sprawled across the coroner’s examination table.

Sounds unwatchable, right? Well, yes and no; given Fincher’s penchant for dark, murky cinematography, a good share of the actual gore is hidden in shadow.

“Se7en” has plenty going for it. There’s a cagey, solid script by Andrew Kevin Walker (who reportedly wrote it while working in a New York City record store), that keeps us guessing, frightened and dreading what might happen next.

The centerpiece, however, is Freeman’s Somerset. This is a remarkable character, played by a remarkable actor. Somerset has spent the bulk of the last 35 years investigating one crime after another. He has no personal life to speak of, and only vague notions of what he might do when he’s not a cop anymore.

He has for years retreated to a lonely life in a nondescript apartment or to the library to read great works of poetry and prose. There are murders every day, and no matter how committed he is to doing a good, fair job investigating the crimes, there will always be more the next day, and the day after that.

“Se7en” is a harsh but well-made motion picture, and Freeman is excellent -- so good he ought to be remembered come Oscar time.

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