An intensely claustrophobic, gut-wrenching thriller about two policemen’s desperate efforts to stop an ingenious serial killer whose work is inspired by the seven deadly sins, this weirdly off-kilter suspenser goes well beyond the usual police procedural or killer-on-a-rampage yarn due to a fine script, striking craftsmanship and a masterful performance by Morgan Freeman.
David Fincher’s second feature, after Alien³, cuts against most expectations for this sort of genre piece: it’s not a buddy picture; the murders themselves are not actually depicted; and the usual gritty big-city realism has been replaced by a highly stylized, borderline-arty visual conception that greatly cranks up the psychological and physical intensity of the drama, by first-time screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker.
At the outset, world-weary veteran cop William Somerset (Freeman) and the cocky newcomer due to replace him, David Mills (Brad Pitt), can barely tolerate each other. Obliged to take the kid on his rounds, Somerset pursues an investigation of the death of an enormously obese man who appears to have exploded from eating too much.
The next day, an influential defense attorney is found gruesomely murdered, and when the words ‘Gluttony’ and ‘Greed’ are discovered, respectively, at the scenes, Somerset correctly predicts that there will be five more murders to cover sloth, pride, lust, envy and wrath.
The unidentified city in which the grisly yarn unravels is subject to heavy rain through the early days of the inquiry, which provides the first element in Fincher’s channeling of images. Virtuoso French cinematographer Darius Khondji and production designer Arthur Max have sculpted a dark, murky world, parts of which are illuminated only by flashlight and much of the rest of which is suffused in a pea-soup green that defies penetration. The film has been hand-tooled with precision and to powerful effect.
Freeman’s is a supremely nuanced, moving performance as the seasoned, bruised and solitary Somerset. This is screen acting at its best. Pitt turns in a determined, energetic, creditable job as the eager young detective. Gwyneth Paltrow gives as much human dimension as possible to her few scenes as Pitt’s sensitive, uncertain wife.
Except for a chase sequence, pic features no overt violence, but the gruesome handiwork of the killer is shown in detail, in part courtesy of special makeup effects wiz Rob Bottin.
1995: Nomination: Film Editing