Noirvember: Se7en

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Noirvember comes to an end on my blog this week. But I’ve saved one of the best neo-noir films for last. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of David Fincher. His movie Zodiac has also been covered on my blog. Fincher has a real knack for making taught thrillers. And my selection this week is a great example of that. The movie is Se7en. Some consider it a horror movie, others a crime movie and then there’s a few of us who believe it’s a neo-noir. I fall into the last category.

Seven follows two detectives as they track down a serial killer who uses Dante’s Inferno and the Seven Deadly Sins to choose his victims. The veteran detective on his last case is Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and the rookie is Mills (Brad Pitt). The movie takes us right down into the world of Dante’s Inferno as they go from one crime scene to the next. Every victim is sermonized by the killer, who justifies his actions by the fact that people today are ignorant of the Seven Deadly Sins. For example, the victim who has gluttony written across the wall across from his body is shown face down in a bowl of spaghetti. He was forced to eat himself to death.

Seven is not a movie for the faint of heart. It shows every grizzly detail of the murders. To this day I’m surprised it wasn’t given the NC-17 rating. That being said, it is also a meticulously crafted piece of cinema. Yes, the murders are portrayed in graphic detail. But it never feels like it’s done purely for shock value. That’s what sets it apart from what has become known today as torture porn. The gore is to show how twisted the killer is, not simply to make the viewer queasy.

While Seven has been out for many years, I will not spoil the ending. Because it packs one heck of a punch. But I will discuss some of the movie’s merits that I admire the most.

One of the things that surprised me the most about Seven was the great chemistry between Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. I like them both a lot, but was skeptical of them being paired together. Seven doesn’t fall into the trap of recycling buddy cop movie cliches or using the same grizzled veteran vs. young punk tropes. Freeman and Pitt are absolutely convincing as crime solving partners.

Another great thing about Seven is how it gets us involved in the process of tracking the serial killer. We have CSI and so many of its pale imitators on TV now. But this is still one of the best movies about detective work and the science involved with it that I’ve ever seen. It’s a thinking crime movie and not merely a gory serial killer movie.

Finally, I absolutely love the look of this film. It’s set in modern times, but it looks and feels like its right out of the 1940s. The costumes, especially Moran Freeman’s stylish ensemble, scream film noir. A lot of people argue you cannot make film noir in color. I disagree. Seven is a great example. David Fincher and cinematographer Darius Khondji give us one of the grittiest and most effective looking modern noir films ever made. The images really stay with you, and they’re not just the bloody murder scenes. One in particular that has stayed with me to this day is how the sloth victim’s murder scene was photographed. The detectives enter an apartment to see Christmas tree air fresheners hanging everywhere and beams of blinding sunlight entering the room almost so the sunlight resembles glistening needles. There’s an eerie vibe that haunts every frame. Fincher is truly a master at establishing mood.

Seven is dark, twisted and also an exhilarating experience. David Fincher is a master of not only telling thrilling stories, but giving us great characters to take us on the journey through their myriad twists and turns. Many serial killers have been made in the last decade or so. But Seven remains one of the best.

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