David Fincher. Release Date: September 22, 1995. DVD Release Date: April 14, 1997.
Back in the day, when I saw this in the theaters, I would have said I hated this movie. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what people were talking about. Granted, that could have something to do with the fact that I saw this movie in the absolutely horrible theater on the University of the Pacific campus, where I was a Freshman at the time. Not unlike the theater in my hometown, the UOP theater suffered from sticky floors, too much exterior noise, and seats that seemed hellbent on exploring your nethers with broken springs in the seat. Since I started blogging, I've mentioned more than once how time and location can change my opinion of a movie, and Seven is the perfect example. I've seen it maybe half a dozen times since 1995, including today, and I like it more and more each and every time I put it in the DVD player.
In many ways, this reminds me of The Bone Collector, although I suspect that it has more to do with the settings used in the films and less to do with the other details. Not just the New York background that runs throughout both films, but the fact that all of these crime scenes are taking place in some pretty gritty areas. Have you ever thought about what aliens might think of New York City if all they have to go on was episodes of Friends, Law & Order, and movies like Seven, The Bone Collector, and Cloverfield? I've never spent time in the city that wasn't limited to an airport terminal, but I know my opinion of New York is tainted by video entertainment. It's not okay, and certainly isn't accurate, but it's the situation.
Originally, I didn’t love Seven. It was better than most of Brad Pitt’s work to date in '95, and in my mind, one of the lesser entries on Morgan Freeman’s brag sheet. Over the years, you can see where it’s spawned some copycats… although that word is probably generous. In terms of setting appearance, The Bone Collector reminded me strongly of Seven, and there was a ritual style to the murders that felt similar in my head. Much later down the road, I was unfortunate enough to see Saw (no pun intended) and Jigsaw’s machinations tossed me right back to this start-up point. Is Saw’s effort like one aspect of Seven on PCP and getting hit by the stupid truck? Yeah, it is. But the complicated scenarios and murder devices are common themes. At least to me. In retrospect, I also see some structural similarities between Seven and Copycat, a move I have loved for a very long time, but I’m willing to buy that I’m finding similarities because these are smarter-than-the-average-bear movies about serial killers, and ones where the writers learned about this sort of psychopathy before they started on the keyboard.
I originally used the term “overabundance of subtlety” to describe Seven in comparison with your average “modern” serial killer flick, say anything after 2000. Look at the violence portrayed in films like Saw and Hostel (although neither of those were as intriguing as this) and then look back. Glimpses of the aftermath appears subtle in my way of thinking. That’s not a bad thing. I can’t unsee some of the gore-fests that I’ve watched in times past, and I recognize that my words are a walking advertisement for why we should be eliminating violence from movies, but desensitization is at work. It takes a lot more violence (and gore) to create a response in me now than it took back in ’95. If I were to watch a similar crime movie from say, the 50s, the reaction is even smaller, or on some occasions, nonexistent. I have a terribly hard time watching old crime films, and this progression towards more and more violent films is the cause.
I was already a fan of Morgan Freeman by 1995, and this is a really solid performance from him. I think he borrowed heavily on his William Sommerset role from this movie in order to build his role as Alex Cross. Back in 1995, I generally flamed Brad Pitt as a talentless hack, someone selected for movie work because of his pretty face and not because of his abilities. Seven made me back off on that stance a little. There's some pretty bad work on his part, especially toward the end, but I could see the promise that would eventually help him put together Benjamin Button and Inglorious Basterds.
This is a quiet sort of thriller, which isn't to everyone's taste, but I recommend that everyone see this at least once. This still seems to be fairly popular, since I've waited for about five months for it to come off of "long wait" on Netflix, so I'm guessing lots of people are already operating on that idea.