Masterpiece Memo: Se7en

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Alien 3 had it’s merits with regard to the superb technical visual aspect, and this was down to music video director David Fincher. He had to put up and shut up there, a poor, insult of narrative material, but that which was directed superbly. Everyone starts somewhere. Se7en was Fincher’s second chance to demonstrate his greatness as a feature film maestro. Is this grim masterpiece still not his finest work? How was he ever supposed to surpass this? In a year with great efforts from the likes of Michael Mann, Ron Howard and Ang Lee, for me Fincher’s master stroke reinvigorated modern film noir, watching it now twenty years on Se7en remains a blueprint for his unmatched photographic style and pacing.

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Fincher marked an instant reputation as a force to be reckoned with behind the camera, creating a motion picture that shuddered so much impact from its audience that it scarred you long before you were even allowed to digest it. With the ludicrously lone Oscar nomination for Richard Francis-Bruce’s film editing (which should have won), Se7en was clearly too much for the Academy to swallow – not even the introduction of a Best Title Sequence Design award in honor of Kyle Cooper’s majestic brilliance. Binding the whole genius together like super-glue is the tight, methodical crime story, never over-complicated, always luring you in whether you want to taste the brutality or not. It’s an education in crime and detective work, in tension and twists, but more than that an unmissable study in well-crafted writing and film-making.

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A crime story focusing on the seven sins, my God of course. The appropriately named Se7en does not just utilize this notion effectively, but turns it so far inside out that screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker leaves your head spinning, rattled with turmoil. From the opening moments of a shocking crime, through observant detective banter, before delving deep into a rich mix-match of a partnership between Mills and Somerset, Walker’s screenplay is one of a kind. A deceptively cold, calculating, compelling companion to director Fincher’s brilliant vision. There are also tints of perfectly timed and naturalistic humor – Somerset’s private astonishment when Mill’s wife claims he is the funniest man she ever met while the wise detective watches his younger partner wrestle with his dogs. Or Mills later exclaiming about the serial killer’s book acquisition or mental state that just because the fucker’s got s a library card it don’t make him Yoda.

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Set in a dark world, both in tone and actuality, Darius Khondji brings vivid light and depth to Se7en throughout. In fact, this is frame-for-frame an immaculately shot shock-fest, an endless visual feast. Far too many examples to do the film justice here, this is literally the case that every blink you are missing something remarkable. We knew Khondji extremely well following the elaborately flawless cinematography he produced for Delicatessen, even so, the majestic work on Se7en was still a splash of water to the face. Hardly ever have such bleak, colorless moving pictures depicting truly awful, draining experiences appeared so enticing to the eye. Khondji’s images penetrate the audience, his camera capturing big fat rain seemingly ebbing across the barrel of a gun, or pulling away effortlessly from a smashed open door – filling the frame with enough shadow and torch-light to be stories all on their own. Bringing you so close to the human horrors on show (much of which left to the imagination) the camera almost forces you to look closer, smell the fear, experience the trauma for yourself. And you simply can not take your eyes from the screen.

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So what else am I supposed to say about David Fincher’s Se7en that I haven’t here already? Well, there is no simple answer except to say I have barely scraped the surface of this mesmerizing motion picture. A detective story, horror cross-breed, brimming with morbidly dazzling technical brilliance – you name it, exquisite photography, suspenseful story-telling, haunting score, razor-sharp sound design, want me to go on? We also have at the forefront some fine acting, Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt making perfect sense of a partnership stretching in opposite directions, Gwyneth Paltrow devastatingly good in trying to peel away a layer of awful reality, and of course Kevin Spacey, having a great year, here turning up in the final act to swallow it whole as his own.

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Fincher directs with expert finesse, clearly thriving alongside cinematographer Khondji’s stunning pictorial brush-strokes, helping establishing the director as an executor of astute, exceptional film photography. The disturbing building blocks of Se7en‘s ultimately cruel narrative is as gripping as anything you will see in the last twenty years, culminating in a climax you dare not have imagined in your worst nightmares. The movie had pulled you right in long before then, and likely after that shocking close you are never coming back. Cinema at it’s most bravura, and most unforgiving.

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