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Seven (Blu-ray Review)

13 Sep, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 9/14/10
$34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for grisly afterviews of horrific and bizarre killings, and for strong language.
Stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Back when the feat meant a lot more than it does now, a candidate for its decade’s grimmest ‘A’-movie (and, yes, we’re talking pedigree here) grossed $101.1 million at the domestic box office in 1995 atop $227 million more worldwide. This tally was, to me, one of the most amazing screen feats of the entire 1990s because the picture had to attract far more patrons than just the yahoo contingent that will go see any serial killer melodrama at the drop of a knife. And its director, David Fincher, wasn’t even a cult figure yet.

So many people saw Seven and have seen it since that there’s no point wasting much time on how dark (in one meaning of the word) it is. But “dark’s” other meaning is germane to the visual success of the Blu-ray. Had this movie been made when drive-ins were still in their heyday, exhibitors would have been screaming the way they were beginning to over the low-lit films of cinematographer Gordon Willis when his career got rolling in the early ’70s. His were images tough to project on a monster screen, and those here would have been as well.

Of course, Seven even presents challenges to smaller home screens — though, of course, home screens don’t mean what they used to in the Blu-ray era of 60-inchers and more. But happily (if that’s the word), a movie that’s a stranger to solar power until its climactic scene has been given a rendering that enables us to pick up all the details Fincher wants us to see — including a few that would have left my life no less enriched had I never seen them. The hall-of-fame creep who’s perpetrating mass murder in an unspecified city plots it so that his death tally will represent each of the Seven Deadly Sins. “Gluttony” is not pretty, especially in, as is the case here, a case of force-feeding.

Seven is one of those getting-to-be-frequent Blu-rays for which distributor Warner goes the extra mile, complete with a hardback booklet and an array of stills on glossy paper. And the essay it includes makes a good point about the filmmakers’ decision to make the story’s locale anonymous: by keeping it generic, they can turn “The City” (broad concept) into the movie’s second biggest enemy without offending residents or the chamber of commerce of, say, a New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. And make no mistake; urban living is an adversary here. It always seems to be raining, the passing subway shakes Pitt’s apartment at regularly scheduled frequent intervals, and Pitt’s wife (Gwyneth Paltrow, her blonde hair in stark contrast to the darkness of all the rest) is on the record as hating it.

Fincher’s style, per usual, is unrelenting — and this is before he made Fight Club, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the last two extreme personal favorites of mine, though I’m still trying to come to terms with the juvenilia of Club). Think just for a minute about the portrayal of Pitt’s about-to-retire new partner played by Morgan Freeman. He never married, failed at the one relationship he attempted, and by the grueling backgrounder work he puts into the case, we surmise that this has been his style every step of his career.  He’s an intellectual of sorts when Pitt and their boss (R. Lee Ermey) definitely aren’t. How did he know so much about John Milton’s Paradise Lost even before he started boning up on this case? One gets the sense that Fincher really identifies with him.

Accordingly, the movie is driven and all business as well — one of those “in for a dime, in for a dollar” situations where any breaks for humor or other asides likely would have pulled it off course. But for all its focus, integrity and willingness to follow Andrew Kevin Walker’s no-fat original screenplay, I still prefer Fincher’s other serial killer movie (Zodiac) because it’s about more things: obsession; a real-life city turned upside down; the unraveling of a marriage; and a brilliant portrayal of what old-school newspapers were like (including the squirrelly characters they sometimes hired) just before computers took over from typewriters and carbon paper.

Still, Seven put Fincher on the map with only his second feature — showing off his keen visual sense, lack of compromise and flair with his players. The final car ride between Pitt, Freeman and the unbilled major actor who plays the killer is brilliant in its actor interaction, and the cutting is brilliant as well. The copious Blu-ray extras, which were extraordinary for their day both on the old Criterion laserdisc and New Line’s 2000 “Platinum Series” two-DVD set, have been carried over from the latter. They cover every subject under the sun that rarely shines in the film, including the labors that went into adapting Seven to the home experience.

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