Newest Review: ... linking the murders is the presence of a word representing one of the seven deadly sins. The killer is clever in keeping his identit... more
The seven deadly sins
Member Name: sunmeilan
Advantages: Fabulous ending
Disadvantages: Some of it is quite dull
Detective Lieutenant William Somerset is just six days off retiring when he becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer. Aided by Detective David Mills, it soon becomes clear that the murders, although initially random, do have something in common - each of them is the representation of one of the seven deadly sins. Gluttony, for example, is represented by a man so overweight that he was unable to escape from his tormentor. Slowly, the two detectives begin to piece the evidence together, and Mills almost catches the serial killer, nick-named John Doe, at one point, only to narrowly escape with his life. Will they finally catch up with John Doe? Or is he destined to always be one step ahead?
Made in 1995 and directed by David Fincher, this film was much praised on release for being excellent in just about every way possible. And with a rating of 8.6 on imdb.com (out of a quarter of a million votes), it is clear that most people still consider it to be a classic. I remember being deeply impressed myself when I first saw it. Watching it again after fourteen years, however, it isn't quite the amazing piece of cinema that I once thought it was - certainly it is not without its flaws.
Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are at the top of the billing and really do carry the film between them. Neither are what I would call knock-out performances though. Freeman is great, as usual, but I've seen him in similar roles loads of times and I really don't think he brought anything new to the table here. Perhaps it was more impressive at the time, I don't know. Somerset is a rather typical jaded cop, looking forward to retirement, yet not knowing what he is going to do with the rest of his life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the performance; in fact, Freeman is incredibly convincing - it's just that I've seen it before in other films and with other actors. His best scenes are most definitely with co-star Brad Pitt - the two of them clash and this adds a bit of colour to both of their characters.
Brad Pitt is marginally better as David Mills, mainly because he has a private life - he is happily married to his childhood sweetheart, Tracy, and this adds a bit more depth to the role. And perhaps because Mills is fairly new to the job, he is less jaded, so Pitt is able to express emotions much more readily. This he does really well, although he isn't always a particularly likeable character - he comes across as being a bit too hot-headed for that. He particularly comes into his own towards the end of the film - I can't really say why without giving away the story, but he gives a really moving performance. He also works well with his screen wife, played by Gwyneth Paltrow - there is a great chemistry between the two of them. Paltrow annoys me on occasion - she has a whiny accent - but here she keeps it to a minimum and slips nicely into the secondary role that she has been given.
Kevin Spacey deserves a mention as John Doe. He doesn't appear in the film until right towards the end, but it is so different from his usual 'everyman' roles that it really made an impression on me. He looks completely different and he gives a wonderfully creepy performance of a psychopath. Brilliant.
This is a film about a serial killer, so obviously there are some deeply unpleasant scenes. We see a couple of up close shots of the dead bodies, which most certainly aren't appropriate for children, hence the rating of 18. There isn't all that much violence though - most of the gory scenes are filmed after the event. It is more the all pervading feeling of evil that creates the uncomfortable and disturbing atmosphere - this is exacerbated by the doom-ridden music that is constantly in the background. All this makes the film full of menace and, ultimately, is what keeps the viewer watching, because there is the constant knowledge that something is going to happen. Unfortunately, that 'something' takes its time in coming - I certainly think pacing is an issue with this film.
I was quite surprised to find that a good part of the film was actually quite hard to follow. The murders, although horrifying, aren't all that interesting - we don't know anything about the dead people or why they were killed - they are just dead people about whom we find out very little. Perhaps I have just read and watched too much of this genre, but even with the deadly sins element, I wasn't all that impressed. What makes the film so good is the ending - the last half an hour, which involves a chase and then a very nasty twist really does keep you on the edge of your seat. I just would have preferred not to wait until the last quarter of the film before I really felt entertained. I then went back and re-watched the first three quarters of the film, which all made a lot more sense the second time around; however, I really would prefer that the film had just grabbed me the first time.
Based in an un-named city, there is very much a feeling that it could be absolutely any city - there is no attempt to place it whatsoever. Everything is very dark - some of it takes place at night, and others are in dim and dingy rooms, so it is naturally dark, but even when there are scenes outside in the daylight, it is raining, so the colours look very washed out. I was left with an impression of shades of green and brown, with the odd splodge of red, usually blood, to 'brighten' things up. Again, this all adds to the atmosphere - it could be any city, any time - all we know is that something really dreadful is going to happen. The final scenes, shot somewhere in the desert with electricity pylons all around, is the most attractive that the film gets, especially with the wide blue sky and fluffy clouds - however the events that take place detract from the attractiveness of the setting.
For such a classic film, I was rather disappointed with the extras. There are four audio commentaries, my least favourite type of extra. They undoubtedly give out an awful lot of information, but because each commentary is the same length as the film and involves watching the whole film again, I can't imagine that anyone but a film student is going to want to sit through it all. I would much rather have had a short behind the scenes documentary or a few interviews with the main actors. In case you are interested, however, the commentaries cover the screenplay, the acting, the cinematography and the sound/music.
I must admit I wasn't as thrilled with this film as I had thought I would be. Don't get me wrong, I still think it is worth watching, I just don't think it is the piece of perfection that many others seem to think it is. Sometimes hype is a very bad thing. However, there is no doubt that the ending makes up for an awful lot of flaws, so it is most certainly worth sitting through the duller parts in the knowledge that the best is yet to come. Just about four stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5.99 (I bought mine from Sainsburys for £2.99, so worth looking there). There is also a two disc version available from play.com for just £3.94 - this has a lot more extras, so is probably worth buying if extras are your thing.
Running time: 127 minutes
Summary: Not as good as I remembered it