The influence of William Friedkin’s groundbreaking serial killer procedural “Cruising” is evident in David Fincher’s masterpiece of the subgenre. The director employs shocking violence that mirrors Friedkin’s provocative use of outré displays of gay sexual expression in New York’s public sex clubs in “Cruising.” Fincher detonates periodic gross-out Grand Guignol elements to sustain a morbid sense of nagging suspense.
Increasingly nasty crime scene images of dead torture victims rotting in squalid rooms as decorated by the killer compress the film’s brutality into a cinematic pressure cooker. We don’t witness the savagery being committed yet we feel its effect palpably. From a production design standpoint, the outrageous crime scenes are gorgeous examples of inspired cinematic artistry. An unspeakable act of hyper-violence promises to fulfill the story’s dramatic arc even though the audience isn’t allowed to see it.
Morgan Freeman’s veteran police detective William Somerset is seven days away from retirement. The bachelor is ready to leave the noisy (unnamed) city behind for a house he has waiting in the burbs. Complications arise. A murder victim is discovered - a morbidly obese man gruesomely forced to eat his way to death. “Gluttony.” Further murder discoveries reveal individually tailored killings dedicated to the Seven Deadly Sins (Gluttony. Greed. Sloth. Pride. Lust. Envy. Wrath.). Before the film’s end, each of the biblical transgressions will be tangibly represented in order and in blood.
The first murder coincides with Brad Pitt’s hot-to-trot new detective David Mills being teamed up with Somerset. Mills’s five years of working homicide in another city haven’t prepared him for a case like this one, and Somerset senses that his new partner is in over his head.
Over the following days, Mills gradually earns Somerset’s begrudging respect, with some assistance from Mills’s anxious Midwest wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). Tracy’s dinner invitation to Somerset results in a bonding event that sticks in the viewer’s mind.
The heart of the story is the budding friendships between Somerset, Mills, and Tracy. The attachment of the three compatible individuals creates a calming substance of extended family, of which the audience is an integral part. It is this very thing that allows Kevin Spacey’s ominous psychopath John Doe to complete his series of seven horrors at the trio’s expense, and elevates the film’s coldly ironic denouement.
Although he previously directed “Alien³,” “Se7en” is the movie that put David Fincher on the map. The film’s iconic look and lighting design led to it being copied so much that it’s possible to forget that “Se7en” was the model. Even its kinetic title sequence established a fresh template to be emulated. You walk out of the movie feeling like you’ve been sucker-punched. Few films pack such a wallop.
Rated R. 127 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)
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