David Fincher has clearly emerged as one of the most influential and exciting American filmmakers of his generation. Even when he’s not quite working at the top of his game (Panic Room / Alien 3) one can’t help but to be at least visually bowled over by what he’s put on the screen. His is a unique style, and one that continues to evolve as he moves toward more “mainstream” subject matter. While Alien 3 served as his introduction to cineastes, studio interference and rampant cuts diluted the director’s true vision, so, in that regard, we didn’t meet the real Fincher until his 1995 follow-up, Se7en; a film that would forever change the face of crime genre cinema.
Shot from Andrew Kevin Walker’s brilliant screenplay, Se7en is brooding and brutal meditation on humanity’s descent into darkness. Lt. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a veteran detective on the verge of retirement, finds himself saddled with an overzealous new partner named David Mills (Brad Pitt). Mills is a transferee who, bored with the banalities of suburban police work, requested the reassignment to the city, while Somerset has no greater desire than to leave the decaying metropolis behind him, and retire to the country.
The disparate personalities clash early when a pair of seemingly unrelated murders reveal that they are, in fact, the work of a killer recreating the seven deadly sins from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Somerset wants no part of the case as he’s literally days away from retirement and knows that this killer’s only just begun his work, while Mills is all too eager to take on the investigation. It’s only when Mills’ charming wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), intervenes, insisting that David bring William home for dinner, that their icy relationship thaws some.
Somerset offers to point Mills in the right direction, giving him a list of reading materials that will aid him in his investigation, but nothing more. Later, Somerset receives a call from Tracy, asking that he meet her for lunch where she confides in him that she is pregnant, but has yet to tell David as she’s not sure if she wants to raise a child in the city. She knows David’s in well over his head, and asks William to look out for him. The exchange opens up some old wounds in Somerset , and, after much reflection, he decides to put retirement on hold and see the case through. As the pair become more entrenched in the case, the killer becomes more allusive, until it's apparent that every move the detectives make are as shrewdly calculated by the killer as the crimes themselves.
I know most of you out there have probably seen the film a half-a-dozen times already (or, if you’re as rabid a fan as I, a hell of a lot more than that), but I didn’t want to get into specifics for those who haven’t seen Se7en as much of its impact relies on a few very unpleasant surprises (not the least of which being the identity of the actor who plays the killer).This is a film that, upon first viewing, resonated with me for days. Thematically, this is a very bleak, oftentimes disturbing, and thoroughly unpleasant film, but it’s also brilliantly acted (in my opinion, it’s Pitt’s purest performance, I don’t think Freeman’s ever been better, and as for that mystery actor mentioned above, let’s just say he nails it ), expertly written, and…well…let’s face it, looks cool as hell. This is the movie that pretty much launched the “silver negative” craze – the super-desaturated, grimy aesthete that virtually defined the look of everything from cop dramas to horror movies in the late 90’s/early noughties. It’s a look that many have termed Fincher-esque, and is still pretty much the standard in grim and gritty cinema today. It’s a look and feel that perfectly captures the somewhat dour mood of the decade – grunge for cinema, if you will. From its scratchy, opening credits sequence (set to a minimalist remix of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”) to its immensely downbeat conclusion, Se7en is a study in decay; decay of hope, decay of morals, and decay of the human condition as a whole. It’s a movie that straddles the line between entertainment and pure sadism, but Fincher strikes the perfect balance and, in the end, crafts what I consider to be a masterpiece of modern cinema.
The long-awaited Blu-ray from New Line Cinema/Warner Brothers presents Se7en in an absolutely gorgeous 2.40:1 1080p transfer. The image here is crisp and boasts extremely fine detail throughout, all the while managing to retain the film’s inherently gritty look. This is a movie with a particularly muted color palette, with much of the action bathed in neo-noir style shadow. There’s an dependence on texture, as well, with sweating walls, cracked stone, and all manner of grit and grime on display, emphasizing the sense of hopelessness and apathy in this city (hence why the sun never shines save for when the characters are well clear of city limits). The look of this universe is every bit as important as the characters who inhabit it, and, while I can’t imagine it was an easy task, the folks behind this transfer did a wonderful job preserving this look while still cleaning up and sharpening the overall image to an impressive degree.
The DTS HD 7.1 track establishes its prominence from the moment the opening credits roll, delivering a near-lethal dose of bass and chiming highs. It’s a booming soundtrack for certain, with lush atmospheric sound effects filling the room, and bright, very organic sounding dialogue throughout.
The Blu-ray comes fully stocked with a great assortment of extras, including four commentary tracks, with insights ranging from the more traditional director/actor observations as presented in the engaging (and occasionally quite funny) track featuring Fincher, Pitt, and Freeman, all the way to the heavily technical annotations of Fincher, who, along with cinematographer, Darius Khondji, and others, dissects the film’s visual style.
Other extras include several short featurettes (all presented in SD); a selection of deleted and extended scenes (SD, with optional commentary); an alternate ending, presented using storyboards and commentary; a fairly technical documentary entitled “Mastering for the Home Theater” (SD), which shows all of the work that goes into recreating the cinematic experience for the home viewer. It’s a nifty piece for videophiles, although, seeing as how it was made long before the advent of Blu-ray, a bit dated. We also get a few galleries, the coolest of which allows for closer inspection of “John Doe’s” diaries. Rounding out the goodies are the film’s theatrical trailer (SD), and a really nice full color booklet that comes along as part of the “digibook” packaging. The booklet features lots of color photos, a few essays, bios, and more.
New Line/Warner Brothers have given one of the 90’s most important films the Blu-ray treatment it deserves, with a stunning transfer, excellent audio quality, and a dizzying array of extras, earning this release my highest possible recommendation.