Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Performances I Love - Morgan Freeman in Se7en (+ few words about John Doe and the box)

By Sati. Tuesday, August 19, 2014 , , ,
When people talk about Morgan Freeman nowadays they tend to talk about how his laziness is almost up there on the levels of tardiness depicted by Johnny Depp's recent professional behaviour which is quite frankly embarrassing to witness. They talk how he stumbled from the set of Transcendence right to the set of Lucy without so much noticing the difference, or at least so it looks judging by the quality of his performances and the level of interest he seems to have in the projects. And when people talk of David Fincher's Se7en they always, always sing praises for Kevin Spacey, hailing his John Doe as one of the most memorable cinematic killers and nominating his performance left and right, completely ignoring everyone else who is in this movie. Let's break these two patterns, shall we?

Morgan Freeman's performance in Se7en is my win for best supporting actor in 1995 and I don't think I'd even nominate Spacey, as good as he was. For me the very reveal of John Doe is a dangerous thing - the scale of his genius and the character of his crimes bordering on somewhat supernatural persists the entire movie, the very reveal of him being just an ordinary human being, as crazy and as right (you cannot help but agree with him a little when he talks about people abusing themselves with sin) as he is was always going to be a tad disappointing.
I'm not saying they should have gone the supernatural way - I'm saying had they didn't reveal him it all, we would be getting a different movie but the mystery of it all would be just mesmerizing. An angel of the Lord, actual one, being a possibility of the force punishing the sinners is a tad more scary than just a regular psycho. And that's what I always saw Doe as - not some great killer in the end, but just one of the ordinary psychos, a thought which I assume, along with his anonymity adds to the terror of the movie. Ordinary people can be psychotic, dangerous. The very fact that he doesn't even have a name and is called John Doe, a name used for the people with unknown identity, is to suggest there are people like that out there, ready to snap at any moment.

"If we catch John Doe and he turns out to be the devil, I mean if he's Satan himself, that might live up to our expectations, but he's not the devil. He's just a man."
There's something extraordinary about John, though. Patience. And a patient person is always the most dangerous one.

There is so much evil in this world and it's so hard to portray a character on screen who is good and not boring. When there is a wise cracking cop looking like Brad Pitt and evil killer murdering people in truly inventive ways, it's even more impressive that the character I consider the most fascinating and the one that stands out the most is Somerset - the good guy.

He's a tired detective who cannot wait to retire but you can see his good soul every step of the way. He wants to give up, he wants to stop chasing the evil, but he can't. It's who he is. And he hates it. He is still horrified by the evil of the world and while most would become bitter, jaded or indifferent when we meet Somerset, years after he first saw a crime, he still is the only one who asks if the child saw the murder happen. Because those kinds of questions should be asked and those things should matter yet for so few, if any at all, they do.
The tragedy of Somerset is that he knows better than others. Mills is still naive and idealistic but Somerset has seen too much. World is an evil place where so much of it is senseless, relentless. And after years of fighting he finally wants peace, even though he'll never have it - the chase never ends and after one crime there comes the other. It's particularly saddening that he is alone, but it only shows just how full of conviction he is - he could have had a child once, but knowing the world the way he does he had no heart to bring it here.

Fincher's ending is so dark - there Somerset is again, witnessing all this evil being left the last guy standing in this awful world. And then there goes that quote which is so different from all that we had seen that the jarring transition actually makes it hopeful - the world may be bad, but there may be good people in it too. Apparently the ending narration of Somerset quoting Ernest Hemingway was an added compromise that neither David Fincher or Morgan Freeman particularly cared for. The decision came from New Line after poor test screenings regarding the dark ending. I myself liked that ending - there is dark and there is too dark and ending without that quote would just be depressing and not very respectful of the fact there were good people in the movie and mere existence of them shows there is good out there and prevents evil from triumphing completely.
Fincher's use of think first, do later stoic Somerset in the movie iss as everything in this film used to perfection in the finale where for the first time in his entire service he has to shoot a gun - a warning shot - and he actually slaps Doe as he reveals the horrible truth to Mills. Fincher has such a control over his material and even when you think the characters are cliché the actors really do something spectacular with them. To this day I cannot decide whether Pitt's screams and agony right before he shoots Doe are a truly wonderful or truly atrocious acting. But I sure as shit will never forget that moment or forget the look on his face.

As for Freeman he is just so splendidly cast here. It's just so easy to buy him as a good, experienced, knowledgeable cop. And he really does wonders showing how one week of a job, one case, can shock even his character. What I also liked was that Somerset is not too quick to label Doe - while Mills rants about Doe being crazy Somerset actually listens to what he has to say. Here is a man who respects the evil he fights. He knows you can never underestimate it or simply write it off as something you have figured out.
Good guys like that in his movies is one of the most curious things about Fincher's films - Freeman in Se7en, Charles Dance in Alien 3, Forest Whitaker in Panic Room, Andrew Garfield in The Social Network, Daniel Craig in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,  Brad Pitt in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards in Zodiac. Fincher gave us so many incredible villains but he can do the polar opposite too.Just as well. And how often is it in cinema that it's the hero who is the most memorable not the villain?

Now, on to the box scene (I do realize I could make another post on that but let's just make this one Se7en themed) - I noticed something recently and figured I'll share. Early in the movie there is a shot of Tracy looking at David and look at how she is framed:
The whole ending sequence in the movie is just timeless. It's like with the ending of Rosemary's Baby when some people claim they saw the baby. Hell, some claim they saw the baby's eyes and actually attempt to describe them. You see none of those things but the sequence is so well directed after seeing the film you are swearing you saw something that was never there on screen.
The box scene uses trickery too. And the morbid, horrible power of suggestion. You can see blood on the inside of the box and few hair moved by the wind. But as Brad Pitt is going through hell, there is a very quick shot of Tracy:
No, it doesn't seem to be the inside of the box, lack of blood being the giveaway. But after seeing the film people will tell you that we saw Tracy's severed head.

Years later even.

They'll tell you there was even a scene with Paltrow opening the door and Spacey standing in front of her.

How many directors nowadays can put things in our head that we never actually saw in the movie?


(Gone Girl teaser - you'll see impressive example of patience in that one. And a box too.)

PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:



26 comments:

  1. As usual, an amazing post! I really loved Freeman's performance, it might be one of his most underrated. I never noticed the framing of Paltrow's face and how it foreshadowed the ending until now. I need to rewatch Se7en! Personally, I think that Se7en is Fincher's best movie to date, closely followed by The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Damn, I cannot wait for Gone Girl!

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    1. Thank you! Oh I agree, I used to prefer Fight Club but upon thinking about Se7en is better, it sits firmly in my top 5 of all time. It's just such an influential, rewatchable masterpiece. I don't think Gone Girl will top it but I think it may top the other two you mentioned.

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  2. Awesome post! As much as I like Spacey in Se7en, it was the duality of Pitt and Freeman's character that I loved more. Freeman opening the box is maybe my favorite scene. So often we see in cop films, the good guys are trying to talk a desperate soul out of doing something horrible or comforting victim's families/friends. For two hours we just see the crime scenes, and that moment kicks in when we are desperate to see John Doe get his due but not at the sacrifice of Mills'. Freeman is amazing with being overcome with shock by what's in the box but also trying to have enough composure and urgency for Mills not to play into Doe's hand. Great performances by Freeman and Pitt. :)

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you liked their work, Spacey always gets the most of love when people talk about this movie.

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  3. That ending was a total mindfuck. It freaked me out when I first saw it. I need to see this film again.

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    1. It's so good. They can never remake it, it's classic.

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  4. Very interesting post!
    I watched this movie so many years ago but I still remember it! Vaguely. Freeman seemed just as usual (I haven't payed attention to his recent performances) to me, but the only thing that bugged me was that it had a a little anti climatic ending.
    One thing I don't remember whatsoever is why the killer chose Mills's wife, didn't he punish sinners?

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    1. Thanks!
      Tracy was kind of the means to an end - he said his sin was envy because he envied David his life and he 'played husband with her'. And then David killed him out of wrath. The ending seemed a bit too clean for me, too easy but it was so well executed. and it was very brave of them to end on such a dark note, especially back then when the studios really meddled into the process a lot, Pitt said he won't be in the movie if they changed that ending, they all had to fight to keep it as it was in the script.

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    2. It was very good of them to do so. Fresh material sometimes gets labeled as trash by studios before getting out, and they don't like risks.

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    3. I don't think they are even taking risks anymore with movies with big stars nowadays, all the good twists and ballsy moves are in indie movies.

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  5. Very well thought out and written post. For me, it's definitely one of Freeman's best performances. He just did everything perfectly. Btw, a really great call on the framing of Paltrow's face being used as foreshadowing. I've seen the movie a few times and I've never noticed that before.

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    1. Thank you! I think it's my favorite performance of his. He used to be so good and committed to his craft.

      It's such a clever little touch. Fincher really puts his heart and mind into his movies.

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  6. I didn't love this film as much as everyone else seems to -- I think it was partly a matter of my being exposed to too much hype before seeing the movie. I may watch it again someday.

    There are so many things I love about this post -- I won't try to mention them all. I love what you wrote about directors having us imagine scenes we never saw so vividly that we "remember" seeing them. It speaks volumes about powerful writing and filmmaking.

    I agree that it is difficult to write "good guys" who won't come across as boring, and Freeman was great in this movie.

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    1. It's so rare that it happens. But sometimes I read people's posts about older films and they really are convinced that scene that wasn't in the movie was in it. It's so amazing how suggestive some images or even sounds may be. Only the best of directors know how to do stuff like this.

      Usually people are all over villains and they never notice that it's really hard to capture good and kindness in movies as dark as this one.

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  7. LOVE this post! (I kept trying to click it yesterday and it was saying "not found") Se7en is one of my favorite movies and Freeman was wonderful in it. I think he was the best out of the three.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah I wrote a draft at work and accidentally clicked published and then clicked back to draft again :)
      so glad to read so many people appreciated his work in the movie!

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  8. Great post Sati! Wow you made me want to rewatch Se7en again now. I'm with you that Freeman is great in this. I think people always remember the deranged killer type villain but I think Freeman is memorable even in his understated yet powerful performance. I like that Fincher can portray good guys as well as the bad ones.

    As for Freeman, I think he's memorable even in a small role simply because he can deliver a line like nobody could, i.e. in The Dark Knight when Reese, a Wayne enterprise employee, came to Lucius Fox:

    “Let me get this straight. You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands; and your plan, is to blackmail this person? [pauses] Good luck.”

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    1. Thank you! Oh that scene was so funny! He is really good in Batman movies but for me the ultimate underrated performance there is Gary Oldman, he is just lovely as Gordon.

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    2. Oh yeah, I LOVE Oldman as Gordon. He can play bad and good guys in equally compelling way. I also love his quip when he first saw that Tumblr, "I've gotta get me one of those." Classic!

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    3. He is so underappreciated in these movies, I thought in TDK he was much better than Eckhart who got so much love.

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  9. I really enjoyed Freeman in this film. 'Seven' and 'Shawshank' are probably my favorite Freeman performances. Sometimes I think he's so good that he doesn't challenge himself anymore, like he did in his younger performances ('Glory' or 'Lean on Me'). But I think at some point older A-listers like Freeman, are so well established, that they get typecast. Johnny Depp tries to fight this typecasting a little too hard by taking every crappy role thrown his way.

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    1. I don't think that's the typecast issue, big stars like them can do whatever they want and they choose to play those easy, lazy roles. Depp is just lazy, i think he is very talented but he is not fighting the typecast thing, on contrary he seems to be enjoying getting rich on this.

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  10. As much as I love Se7en, I can't wait for you to write about Zodiac. For some reason, probably because until the very end, you can't be 100% sure who Zodiac actually was, I can watch that movie again and again. Every time I hope to see soemthing new, and even if I don't, I once watched it two days in a row, you still enjoy the ride for some reason. Se7en is much more in your face, Zodiac is more subtle and yet, there are so many wonderful performances there. I don't care if the villain is less known that Spacey (though you argued well that Spacey at that time was not that well known either), it's the "good" guys that pop into my head first: Gyllenhaal, Ruffalo, Downey.

    The box things is quite good though, like, I watched Se7en for the second time and I was surprised that I didn't see the head, though, I was fairly certain I did see it the first time I watched it. Interesting.

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    1. I actually am completely convinced that creepy dude was the Zodiac and i was since the first time they interrogated him. Zodiac is definitely a very good character study but I wish they spread the focus differently, I really wasn't all that interested in Gyllenhaal's character, while the one Edwards played sadly disappears like 40 minutes before the end.

      It's such a fantastic example of how suggestive a scene can be.

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  11. Wonderful post! So glad to hear you're a fan of Freeman's performance too. I nominate him for Best Actor that year, and it's probably my favorite performance from him.

    The box scene is crafted extremely well. LOVE that scene.

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    1. Thanks, so glad you agree! Freeman was fantastic here.

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