Tuesday, September 2, 2014

David Fincher Retrospective: Seven (1995)

Director: David Fincher
Starring:  Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwenyth Paltrow, R Lee Ermey, Richard Roundtree,
Rated:  R

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for."  I agree with the second part.
                     ~Detective William Sommerset

Being caught up in the realm of Fanboy-ism is something I find pretty sad nowadays in my older age.  So many people miss out on great things or cannot appreciate what IS given because of it.  Silly details that really have no relevance or matter in a scheme as a whole, stupid biases and the like keep people from experiencing really great things.  Maybe its that they don't like "this" actor or a "little teeny tiny detail on an adaptation wasn't super correct but has no real weight on the finished project" or treating films like they're in competition with each other.  Believe it or not, there are a TON of Star Wars fans who have never seen Woody Allen's masterpiece Annie Hall solely because it won Best Picture over the initial outing of The Force.  And its a damn shame.  That movie didn't hand itself the award, people who had no connection with the production voted on it. Its really sad, because they're missing out on a great movie and maybe they'd see why someone might swing its way in terms of quality.
Which brings me to my experience with Seven.  I didn't see the film until it came to VHS and my parents rented it.  I had avoided the movie at theaters because I was mad at it.  My beloved Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers, the triumphant return of "The Shape" after a 6 year hiatus was squashed opening weekend when Seven (In its second week) topped it at the box office.  Back then I wasn't as knowledgeable, not realizing (which America still kinda doesn't) that box office rank matters not.  Also, why the heck was I mad at Seven?  Seven didn't crown itself, people went and saw it.  It also had Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow, who at the time I thought were just pretty faces that did "boring movies", so Seven couldn't have been any good.  And even though I was "mixed" about Halloween 6 at the time, I felt it deserved first place for some reason.  Looking back this is ultimately pretty stupid as Halloween 6 really isn't a good film.  It got exactly what it deserved.  But, I was young and a fanboy and this is exactly the kind of stupid bias I was talking about in the first paragraph.  And no I am not calling it "Se7en", that's not the title, its silly redubbing.  See the poster.
Within moments of starting the film I was hooked in a way Dimension Films only could dream about hooking me with the Thorn cult.  I was stupid.  This was TOTALLY my kind of movie.  From the opening credits using Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" (which was cool because at this point I'd not seen such a big adult movie use my music in its soundtrack/score) to its bitter end, I couldn't take my eyes and concentration away from this movie.  It was like nothing I'd ever seen before (which, admittedly, I didn't see Manhunter until later on).  As a horror nut, I couldn't believe I'd avoided such a ridiculously awesome movie.  This film quickly became a favorite of mine and one of the best movies I'd ever seen.  While I loved it, I don't think my parents were as big of fans though.  But, hey, it was usually them liking a movie and me not caring for it, so at least I got one, right?
Remember my reservations about Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow?  Gone after Seven.  I had so much respect for "magazine cover" celebrities taking on and being a part of a movie like this.  Usually people of their stature kept as far as possible from the movie.  Originally, I thought Brad Pitt was great in the film, a superb performance.  However, as time has gone on, I realized I may have been a bit overzealous in dubbing that.  He's sort of in the middle of some good moments as a performer, but also not quite ready and lacking experience in a few scenes.  One of his biggest problems that both hurts and helps his characterization is that you can see a level of self assurance in him that he thinks he's top dog here and the best thing about the movie.  It works with the characters, but also sells some lines short.  Pitt would do better in his career, but this is a pretty great launching point for him.  
One thing I do have a lot of respect for, is that Brad Pitt fought and fought and fought to keep the ending of the film intact, even so far as threatening to quit the film.  Gotta have respect for that.  If this film didn't end with the head in the box, and went for a more traditional chase and rescue sequence at the end, I wouldn't be here typing this piece.  Its everything to to the movie.  This is what sets it apart from all the other Silence Of The Lambs-inspired thrillers of the time.  Seven would just be known as the one that was just a bit more graphic than the others.  By going all in and staying true to itself start to finish, Seven became its own thing and its own strong film.  Also, it got a big assist in the fact that Kevin Spacey demand his name not be mentioned in publicity for the film and his name not appear until the end credits.  He figured everyone would just be sitting there waiting for him to pop up and realize halfway through he was the likely culprit of all the murders.  
With Seven, David Fincher created a fantastic horror-noir thriller that really had its own identity and stuck out amongst most films coming out in the 90s.  He built a dark, bleak city that has its own sort of identity and becomes its own character.  It may not have happened right away, but Seven was a highly influential filmmakers later on.  People, like me were drawn to its realistic take on a high concept and the dark, tragic endgame.  I can't really stand the term "dark and gritty" when people talk how they want some adaptation or reboot to be, but I honestly think Seven is a film that is a culprit in inspiring that mindset.  The film has inspired both good and bad.  The original Saw film is definitely a film that was inspired by the likes of Seven.   Its funny how people always gravitate to how graphic the Saw films are, but the first one really isn't and you'd never hear someone call Seven "torture porn" yet it features similarities in terms of graphic content. We have just been flooded now with films featuring this mindset that they themselves have become boring.  Seven wouldn't be nearly as shocking or effective if released in today's climate.  
From VHS, to DVD and now on Blu-ray, I've owned Seven every format.  Its always one of the earlier ones I tend to pick up.  The film is one that definitely impacted me pretty big time in my youth.  Seven was just incredibly well made an shocking.  I was a thrill seeking movie junkie that was always looking to be on the edge of my seat, jump at something and have my jaw drop with shocking revelations.  Seven did all that.  As an aspiring teenage screenwriter at the time, I oddly put Andrew Kevin Walker on my map of checking out his material and backtracking what he's done and not David Fincher.  It wouldn't be but a few years later I would course correct that mentality, as it turns out Seven was the best work Walker ever did (He did do Sleepy Hollow, but I accredited more of that masterwork to Burton).  I do think Andrew Kevin Walker and David Fincher made a good pairing and would like to see them at it again one day.  Even as time has passed, Seven remains quite a terrific, engaging and gut punch of a movie and one of the best of the 90s.

Kevin Spacey as John Doe

NEXT TIME:  What do you get for the man who has everything?

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