Set in a dark and dreary New York City, the crime noir element is prevalent from the beginning. Rain is ever-present, and walls in many of the victim's homes are old and peeling. Even things as innocent as a lamp shade give off a sinister vibe in this low-lit thriller. New to the city, Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) are having trouble adjusting to their new life, but when Mills is assigned to work with aged Detective Somerset (Freeman), he becomes highly involved in the investigation of the seven deadly sins killer.
Finger prints from the killer can never be found, and hidden messages and clues revealing his motives are intricately concealed in his highly pre-meditated murder scenes.
Visually, this film is an early version of the typical Fincher style. Highly decorative and detail-based-locations add the fine-realism that his films always possess. With swooping camera angles and penetrating well-framed shots, the cinematography in Se7en bares a sophistication that reflects the detail-based occupation of the detective protagonists while revealing the haunting methods of the killer.
Though Fincher never writes his own scripts (Andrew Kevin Walker wrote Se7en), he is always heavily involved in the story and is a perfectionist during the shooting of his films. Howard Shore provided the score (a similar score to his soundtrack to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) from four years earlier), but the opening title sequence features a remixed version of the Nine Inch Nails song "Closer" which is a career foreshadowing to Fincher's most recent two films that feature soundtracks by the Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor.
The first two acts of this film are a joy to observe, but where the film falls apart is the ending:
At the end of the film, the killer - only known as "John Doe" - turns himself in after only five victims in his chain of seven deadly sins have been found. Desiring for the world to see his final two murders (which he claims were intricately hidden), he makes a deal with the detectives stating that if they escort him to a disclosed area of his choosing that he will show them the final two victims and plea guilty of murder instead of pleading insanity. Naturally, the detectives agree and take him to the location.
It's broad daylight in the middle of a desert (very similar to Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film North By Northwest) and a van pulls up meeting the two detectives and the restrained John Doe. Detective Somerset leaves Mills to guard John Doe so that he can check the content of the van. Inside the van is a box, and within the box is the head of Detective Mills' wife.
Mills begins to sob as he pulls his gun out and points it at John Doe against Somerset's will. Frankly though, this scene does not work well on an emotional level.
Earlier in the film, Detective Mills' wife met with Detective Somerset at a coffee shop and revealed to him that she was pregnant and too afraid to tell her husband because she didn't want to raise a child in New York City. This occurrence is never mentioned again and Mills never finds out that she was newly-pregnant until John Doe reveals to him that she was when the box with her head in it is opened.
Had Se7en been more about the personal life of Detective Mills and his wife as they struggled to conceive a child, this would be a much more emotionally impacting sequence, but because her pregnancy was dwelled upon so little and it was a surprise to Mills, we end up with a man crying on the screen with an audience that thought the film would end in a less-predictable manner and cannot connect with the emotion presented before them.
It was predictable to have the head in the box, and it was expected that when Mills inevitably pulled the trigger and killed John Doe that Mills would fulfill John Doe's seven sins killing spree. It would have been far more impressive for Mills to have let John Doe live with the intent of letting him suffer in prison for life compared to him giving into emotions.
Yes, Mills is the young inexperienced detective, but the dramatic tension could have been elevated even further with John Doe shocked that Mills refuses to give into his violent natural impulses... but that's not how it ended.
Se7en is an enjoyable film, but nowhere near as brilliant as his future work. Fincher's films are almost notorious for their wonderfully devised endings, but Se7en falls flat when it could have been a dramatic moment. Without a doubt, that is his loss.
Though this film is better than most in the genre, the ending is unforgivable in my mind and presses me to recommend Jonathan Demme's The Silence of The Lambs or Fincher's latest masterpiece The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) as far superior mystery crime-thrillers.
My ranking: 3.5/5 stars