Se7en ★★★★★

What can you do about a thing like evil? After all, it is a term that is stronger than and independent of all other classifications of inhumanity. Raw or refined, it is the total absence of good. More directly, it is the full commitment to pursuing bad. Whatever rationalizing that may be attached to it, evil is a sickening and powerful force and when it wins, it causes us to question what good is left in the world...Yes, pure evil has the ability to drastically shift our moral outlook and change the world if we allow it to. Despite its persistence through history and its overwhelming stronghold in certain corners of the earth, we continue to resist it. Apathy enables and humor temporarily sedates the blows, but when all is said and done, there must still be someone manning the front lines, obliterating their own ignorance and keeping armed watch, waiting for evil to raise its head once more.

In David Fincher's Se7en, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is that watchman. An aging detective in an unnamed city devoid of virtue, he grows tired of the filth that prevails all around him and - at the start of the film - is set to resign from his position in one week's time. Somerset is a good man- clearheaded, serious, discerning and reasonable. Enter Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt). Young and in a healthy relationship, he's just transferred to the department and has been paired with Somerset for a new homicide investigation. He is emotional, sardonic, quick tempered and spontaneous. A good man for sure, but one with a lot less experience and a penchant for rash conclusions. Together they will be pushed to the edge of tolerance as a special breed of wickedness emerges, dispensing its idea of justice on a slew of "innocent" victims.

Se7en is based in gritty, pulpy neo-noir material, but it is elevated by its fascinating meditations on immorality and the burdens of maintaining order. As a procedural thriller, it works remarkably well, moving at a steady pace and delivering tension in a couple of key moments. As drama, it also succeeds. By establishing a small number of parallel elements, such as a dilemma faced by Mills' wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a handful of Somerset's repetitious home habits, the film creates a credible collection of characters with meaningful problems that relate well to the story's core themes.

The world that Fincher designs in Se7en is an ugly one. The city is hopelessly bereft of color and vibrancy- restricted to pale grays and dark blues, save for the innermost corridors of savagery, for which intense yellows and stunning reds are used. It always seems to be raining, or at the very least, dingy outside. You can almost smell the pollution and feel the grime of the streets building up beneath your fingernails as you watch it. There's truly no light in this hopeless den of sin and Fincher presents this fact with an approach that draws attention to the dangling excess of a city gone to hell. The film's heavy atmosphere focuses mainly on ugliness, but it is near-impossible to take your eyes away from the action onscreen. Each godforsaken locale and depraved curiosity carries a bizarrely macabre appeal that goes just beyond cheap voyeurism into the realm of tastefully executed grisly fascination.

More stunning than the atmosphere is the intense pessimism on display. David Fincher has always been a cynical filmmaker, but Se7en shows the full extent of that downbeat perspective. Evil is two steps ahead of the curve and the do-gooders are outnumbered. The dormant malevolence within ourselves is more terrifying than the overt wickedness of the villain and as the ending suggests, that inner nature of ours is more easily coerced out than we'd like to believe. A cycle of harm and self-destruction is facilitated, our decisions so predictable, they would seem preordained. Voices of reason still struggle to be heard in the darkness, but ultimately...the triumph will not be theirs. Such a moral coup takes place in Se7en and Fincher's camera looks on, fittingly detached.

A masterpiece of the diabolical, Se7en is a neatly constructed package of revulsion and thrills. The most basic ingredients of its contents are familiar, but the flourishes are fresh and there are intellectual surprises aplenty. As far as Fincher's narrative tendencies go, it all leads back to this film and despite me being late to this cinematic excursion and knowing of the twists, I found much to love. If you haven't already, open the box and discover this devilish delight for yourself.

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