More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Or se-seven-en, as it’s infuriatingly stylised. Much to his distaste, grizzled veteran Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is teamed up with a largely idealistic, naive, hot-headed Detective Mills (Brad Pitt), on the cusp of Somerset’s retirement. Their initial animosity, which predictably enough will become respect over the course of the piece, must go on the back-burner when it becomes clear a serial killer is at work in Noo Yawk’s five boroughs.

The two move through the procedural motions while uncovering five murder sites based loosely around the seven deadly sins, before the killer, Kevin Spacey’s John Doe, unexpectedly gives himself up as part of his cunning master plan to make himself and Mills exemplars of the remaining two sins.

You have to applaud Fincher’s sense of continuity, taking the same dark, dilapidated, dingy tone of Alien 3 and moving it wholesale to New York, which hasn’t looked this unappealing on the silver screen since the days of Taxi Driver. It fits the subject matter well, although the almost relentless grime grows wearying.

A lot of this film’s appeal to emotion appears to me to be based on the shock value of the tableaus John Doe is creating, but there’s nothing like a couple of decades of torture porn to lessen the shock value of this film. A confession, before preparing for this podcast I hadn’t seen Seven, largely because while I missed it first time around I couldn’t miss the relentless parodying and inevitable spoilers of John Doe’s final trick, so for me, by this point, it has been rather comprehensively de-fanged.

As a result, there’s not much left in Seven for me to appreciate. Freeman is motivated, so gives a commendable performance, but this was the time of Brad Pitt only just emerging from his chrysalis of improved acting ability, and for my money 12 Monkeys was by far the better turn of this time period. Not to say he’s bad, as such, but I don’t find him particularly engaging here.

But if you’re not all that impressed by the grizzly details of the murders, there’s not a great deal else in here to care about. There’s not all that much in the way of investigation going on, and what little there is feels a lot like filler material to pad time between the killings. The main duo get some character development over the course of the piece, but nothing that’s not resolutely conforming to genre norms.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Spacey’s John Doe, who’s quite the most boring psychopath I’ve seen since Dick Cheney was last interviewed. He’s so bland it’s difficult to care what his motivations are, which is just as well, as you’re not really going to get any joy on that front either. Being crazy seems to be its own reward, in this instance.

Perhaps I wasn’t able to appreciate the intended impact, but this is perhaps the greatest disappointment to me in this podcast, albeit far from the worst film. It’s mix of cliched structure and try-hard dark ‘n’ edgy-ness so beloved of the nineties gives this the feel of a film of a bygone era, and has aged poorly. Thankfully there’s a much better serial killer based movie we’ll cover later that I can recommend in Seven‘s place, but this is a swing and a miss for me.