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.)
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