In the early 2000s, Sylvester Stallone was struggling to rebuild himself from some of his cheesy action movies of the 90s, and these efforts didn’t all meet with much success. Get Carter is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Michael Caine in the title role, and this remake was received with negative criticism and a poor box office take. However, I saw this film on opening weekend, and I have very much liked it ever since. Having still not seen the original movie, I imagine I have the ability to view it much more objectively. Still, almost any movie promising Sylvester Stallone in a fist fight with Mickey Rourke and a hilarious John C. McGinley is pretty cool to begin with, but I honestly feel the film has a lot of worthwhile merit in many regards.
His name is Jack Carter, and you don’t want to know him. When it’s your time to settle your debts, you pay what you owe, or Carter will make you pay. While working for the mob in Las Vegas, Carter (Sylvester Stallone) learns that his brother has died, and returns home to Seattle in order to learns the how’s and why’s. His brother left behind a wife, Gloria (Miranda Richardson), and a teenage daughter, Doreen (Rachel Leigh Cook), which Jack feels he must now take care of since he was not around when it mattered most. Though, when digging into the death of his brother, Jack comes to suspect that is was no accident, and that someone has to pay up.
Now, what even some of the middle of the road reviews gave credit to was that Stallone is solid as Jack Carter, and I enthusiastically agree. I really like that Jack is a guy who carries a weight of regret with him to where he has this post-facto sense of responsibility. He might be a guy who beats people up for a crime syndicate, but there’s a certain moral compass to Jack which Stallone grasps onto perfectly. There’s a lot of subtlety to his performance showing the superb reversal on the over-the-top action hero roles of Judge Dredd or Demolition Man. He brings with him a low key presence of intimidation, but still finds those moments of clever signature Stallone charm and wit. Jack Carter has a warm heart and compassion for those he cares about, and this comes so very naturally to Stallone. There’s such a great depth of dimension to what he does here. Sly gives us a complex character who intensifies the emotional drive of the film. It’s also amazing seeing how bulked up Stallone got for this movie. He’s larger than ever, and it really works for Jack’s tough, bad ass presence. Yet, it is that softer side of Jack Carter that really impresses as he shows a lot of pain after a certain point really hitting you deep in the heart, and that translates into a venomous vengeful determination in the film’s third act. It’s an awesome, compelling performance by Sylvester Stallone that amazingly reminds you that he can be a stunning, complex actor. I think it’s one of his best performances since First Blood.
A lot of the depth of heart and substance is carried on through Miranda Richardson and Rachel Leigh Cook. Richardson is great as Gloria who is in this constant uncertainty about Jack. At times she can confide in him about her problems with Doreen, but at other times, can condemn Jack for bringing further trouble upon them and being absent from their lives until Richie died. Richardson has pitch perfect chemistry with Stallone standing strong on her own while showing the emotional turmoil inside. Meanwhile, Cook very easily endears herself to Jack and an audience with some sad sweetness and sympathetic charm. As certain things are revealed, and far more tragic layers are peeled back from Doreen, Cook is really able to demonstrate the soul of her heartbreaking talent. It really ends up being the pulsating emotional core of this film.
I really like the scenes between Stallone and Mickey Rourke. These are two actors who genuinely seem like they enjoyed working off each other. They’ve got the right rhythm and chemistry that these two characters should have being old acquaintances and all. Rourke has the right charisma and air of sleaze as Cyrus Paice which makes him very entertaining to watch, but also, a real piece of scum that you want to see get busted up by the end. Rourke and Stallone are two buffed up bulls ready to lock horns regularly, and when they do finally trade punches, it’s a straight up bad ass brawl.
Anyone who loves John C. McGinley’s comedy work would also love him here. He plays Con McCarty, an associate of Jack’s in the Las Vegas syndicate, and I swear he ad-libbed the majority of his dialogue. It is just so brilliantly quick witted, off the cuff, and hilarious that he’s an utter, endless joy. It’s a performance like this which shows that this is a film that is interested in balancing the heavyweight drama with sharp beats of levity. And Alan Cumming is quite good as the geeky wet rag dot-com millionaire of Jeremy Kinnear who has gotten in way too damn deep with seedy individuals. He is a pleasure to watch in this role as Stallone looms over him with his brute intimidation. Of course, Michael Caine does a fine job in a somewhat small role as Richie’s now former employer, and Caine and Stallone have some solid scenes together. Apparently, even Caine endorsed Stallone as a respectable successor to his original role, and including him in this cast was a really nice touch.
I really adore the look of this film from director of photography Mauro Fiore. It’s soaked in this somber tone of overcast gloom of blues and greens that really absorb you into the tone of the movie. Director Stephen Kay really pushed hard to have this filmed in Seattle, and the beauty of the rain soaked city makes the film feel a little more unique. There’s also some unconventional style to Get Carter that might not work for many films, but all of the artistic flourishes really meld together beautifully, in my opinion. The strategic slow motion beats add a sense of grace to the photography, and Fiore moves the camera extremely competently with plenty of steadicam. I like that when Jack’s whole world turns upside down so does the camera accentuating a particularly unique filmmaking style that I really like here. There is some stylish editing with a few jumpy cuts, flash frames, and speed changes. I could see how some would find that irritating, but I really got absorbed into the mindset of this movie. Stephen Kay uses these stylistic choices to slip you into a character’s perception such as Jack’s world fracturing. Get Carter was edited by Academy Award winner Jerry Greenberg who also edited The French Connection, Apocalypse Now, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Scarface. Here, he superbly executes Stephen Kay’s vision right from the opening credits sequence onward.
There is a great, moody collection of music here in addition to Tyler Bates’ unique and stylish score. The original theme for the 1971 film by Roy Budd is utilized and remixed for this remake, and it is a beautiful composition that just tingles my senses. There are some techno tracks infusing some dance club style vibes into the movie. I particularly love the ethereal Moby track during the funeral scene. All of this music creates a very soulful or energized originality to this film that melds well with its visual stylings.
There is some really well put together action including a couple of very smart, tense car chases. Action directors who love their shaky cam could learn something from this film. Stephen Kay does make use of some unsteady photography and tight framing, but the editing is properly paced so to not confuse an audience. There are quick cuts, but because the lighting is clear, the compositions are just right using good angles, it all works. The latter car chase is really great, and it has a really cool stunt crash at the end. Yet, while there is exciting action, this film maintains that emotional and character based focus as Jack Carter delves further into the seedy underbelly of Seattle.
When Jack goes into full-on revenge mode, this movie gets dead-on bad ass. The grit really surfaces in the visual style and Stallone’s performance. Everything gets pretty dark and intense as Jack deals out his sense of personal justice in violent, sometimes lethal ways. This is a revenge movie driven by a lot of emotional depth and substance. Jack is going to clean out the trash, but the mending of emotional wounds is just as important to him, if not more so. It’s all wrapped up in his personal sense of obligation to the extended family he’s neglected, and a need to prove to himself and others that he can be a better man than his history has shown. There’s also a subplot where Jack Carter is involved with the syndicate boss’ woman back in Vegas, and this runs through the film a little. It’s another emotional tether that puts stress upon Jack especially when Con is sent to “take care of business” with much intended finality. Most revenge movies are just about the violent retribution, but this movie really delves you deeply into the hearts and souls of its sympathetic characters.
Get Carter is damn good, in my opinion, because it does take the time to develop its character and give you a dimensionality to connect with. You feel Jack’s pain and his need to put things right, and your sympathy easily flows for Doreen as the film progresses. Stephen Kay did do a really exceptional job with making these characters feel poignant, and have the consequences of everyone’s actions feel like they carry the weight of the world. This is really the kind of revenge thriller that truly captivates me because it’s not just gunning people down for ninety minutes, which does have its satisfying qualities. The substance of everything here saturates the film, and Stallone carries it all so amazingly well. The ending might have used a little more weight and veracity, but the payoff is satisfying regardless. I highly recommend this remake of Get Carter. If you’re a Stallone fan, like me, you should definitely give this a watch.
There are so many action movie classics that people call the best, but for me, Point Break is a special, unique film that is, without a doubt, my favorite action movie of all time. What compels me about this movie that beyond all others is the intense relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. It creates this amazingly unique dynamic that forges the entire electric, kamikaze adrenalin rush of this film. So, let’s delve into Kathryn Bigelow’s action classic.
Rookie FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover to infiltrate a cache of Southern California surfers suspected of robbing banks. Utah, a former football player, is assigned to Los Angeles. There, four bank robbers, who wear rubber masks and call themselves “The Ex-Presidents,” have executed a series of successful robberies which embarrassingly have the FBI stumped. Utah, and his partner Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) suspect that the robbers are surfers and hatch a plan for catching them, but the deeper Utah gets connected to the charismatic adrenalin driven Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and the beautiful Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty) the harder it is for him to jump off this tidal wave of danger and excitement.
Point Break absolutely lives up to its premise as being 100% pure adrenalin. The surfing aspect is just the entryway into this, but it remains at the core of the whole film. That elevated experience shared by Bodhi and Johnny, specifically, is what fuses those two characters together, and is treated with great respect by the filmmakers. The skydiving sequences escalate that to another level with breathtaking cinematography that envelopes you in the experience, and make for a radically insane sequence where Johnny jumps out of the plane, without a parachute, to capture the escaping Bodhi. The earlier chase sequence is visceral and intense that really utilizes a rougher style of camera exceptionally well. And of course, the bank robberies are slam banged into a high gear that shows just how proficient and threatening the Ex-Presidents are. It is no wonder why the FBI has not been able to catch them after twenty-seven banks over three years. Wrap all of this up, and you’ve got a film that goes for the physical thrill of the moment over special effects spectacle. It’s really all about the character dynamics and these scenarios of extreme rushes that provide the high octane exhilaration of Point Break.
Beyond just the action, the core of this film’s compelling energy are the excellent arcs for both Johnny and Bodhi. You see Special Agent Utah at the start being this fresh from the academy FBI rookie all straight laced and green, but you can see the eagerness underneath that later fuels that adrenalin junkie urge. Johnny and Bodhi become genuinely intertwined in a naturally evolving way that inches Utah further towards that kamikaze impulse. Bodhi’s charisma and aura sucks Johnny right in, but it’s never manipulative. Everything Bodhi conveys is honest straight to his core, and every word of it energizes Johnny. Most action films have a clear delineation between the protagonist and the antagonist, but here, things are not so clean cut. Once Johnny is caught up in Bodhi’s tsunami of pure adrenalin, there’s no way out, and he has to ride it out all the way to its heart pounding, violent end. Bodhi will push everything to its absolute breaking point while risking everything and everyone in the process, and there is a price to pay for it.
Quite frankly, this would have to be the movie that made me a serious Keanu Reeves fan. A lot of people give him crap, but I give him a lot of credit. There’s a great deal of subtle development of Johnny Utah between Reeves’ performance and Bigelow’s direction. This all occurs as he further embraces the philosophy of Bodhi and his love for Tyler. Keanu Reeves and Lori Petty have very pure, heartwarming chemistry. Tyler is vibrant and full of brightness that adds glowing life to Johnny. Meanwhile, as the connection between Johnny and Bodhi intensifies, so does the performance of Reeves. Johnny becomes more confident, more determined, and less bound by rules as he is propelled out of control through Bodhi’s deadly thrill ride. I feel Reeves becomes more compelling as the third act shifts into high gear, and Johnny has to has to jump right off the deep end after Bodhi.
Kathryn Bigelow’s direction really envelopes you into Johnny’s mindset whether he’s mesmerized, haunted, elated, or burning with conviction. Through all of this Reeves is genuine and sincere in his emotions. You are kept very closely in tuned with Johnny’s mindset through successes, failures, and conflicts. Point Break is a film that drives everything right to the edge. Every danger, every extreme, every adrenalin rush is pushed to its insane limits at whatever cost imaginable. Bodhi embraces this without hesitation or a moral compass. He’s essentially a barreling freight train unwilling to put on the brakes regardless of what it will cost him.
Patrick Swayze is wickedly good as Bodhi. He envelopes the character entirely in philosophy, conviction, physicality, and spirituality. I love how Bodhi has this ethereal link to the sea, and gains a serenity from surfing while being an extreme adrenalin junkie. Yet, it’s not merely about the thrill with the bank robberies. He has a greater purpose by showing the shackled masses living their mundane, slave to the grind lives that the human spirit is thriving within his crew. Swayze is so electrifying with his natural charisma and intense commitment to the character. When I watch this film, I don’t perceive Patrick Swayze playing a role. I see Bodhi through and through. Swayze is stunningly excellent here, and I’m still a little sad that he is no longer with us. He was an amazingly talented actor, and this should stand as one of his best, most compelling performances.
Rounding out the main cast is Gary Busey in a great, entertaining role as Angelo Pappas. He can be hilariously funny and quirky, but solidly dramatic in the right moments. It’s a really well rounded character portrayed by an actor with the smart talent to balance those elements out perfectly. Plus, there’s John C. McGinley as FBI Director Ben Harp. Surely, he might seem like the stereotypical loud mouthed boss slinging insults around to his subordinates, but McGinley’s such a strongly talented actor that it never comes off as shallow or tired. Add in a touch of smug arrogance, and the character of Harp works dead-on-the-mark in McGinley’s hands.
The musical score by Mark Isham is really fantastic. For one, I love how he captures the enveloping spiritual sense of the sea with smooth, flowing compositions. It’s very beautiful work that reflects the philosophies of Bodhi long before he enters the film officially. There is another gorgeous cue that reflects the mystique of Bodhi that’s only a few chords, but it’s repeated a few times to very magical effect. The action cues are good, yet subtle. Isham never bombards you with pounding percussion.
The soundtrack is energized with songs that capture that Southern California feel from bands such as L.A. Guns, Concrete Blonde, Jimi Hendrix, Public Image Ltd., and capped off with my beloved “Nobody Rides For Free” by Ratt. That song perfectly concludes the film, and reflects the constant energy and excitement that runs through it.
The film really escalates to another level when Johnny realizes who the Ex-Presidents actually are, and that super charges every scene from there on out. The emotions hang on the razor’s edge. For Bodhi, it ups the stakes making the adrenalin rush and peril even more appetizing for him. For Johnny, it creates conflict as he has forged a very close bond and kinship with Bodhi, but is soon forced to do whatever is necessary as Tyler is put into imminent peril. Unlike most action movies such as Die Hard where it’s very straight forward that this is the bad guy and he’s going to die without question, Point Break makes it all far less certain because all of these emotions, some are unexplainable, cloud and complicate the issue. What all of this builds to is possibly my favorite movie ending of all time that entirely departs from all action film expectations.
The relationship between Johnny Utah and Bodhi reaches its apex on a storm soaked beach. Their connection remains electrifying as these two clash, but it’s not the fist fight that makes this as great as it is. Johnny finally has Bodhi in handcuffs ready to put him in a cage for life, but it’s that spiritual kinship between the two that sparks off something unique. All the groundwork for this ending is laid early on in the film in one scene over a bonfire, and the pay-off is amazing to me. Point Break is my favorite action film not because it has the best action sequences, or because of its pleasantly memorable dialogue. It’s because of the culmination of this ending. Everything that these two characters have developed between each other throughout the movie is so smartly interwoven, setup, and punctuated here. It concludes an amazing arc for Johnny Utah who begins as this clean cut rookie FBI Agent who changes into someone driven by impulse, emotion, and that inexplicable sensation he gets out on those waves. He pursues Bodhi down around the world for months on end, but in those final moments with an honest plea from Bodhi that only Johnny can understand fully, you get an ending that breaks a lot of rules in all the right ways. This ending captivates me to no end that I have attempted to homage and replicate in many of my own scripts.
Karthryn Bigelow did not have any real box office success prior to this film, despite turning out some quite good films such as Near Dark and Blue Steel. With Point Break, she really came into fruition with a greatly exciting, fresh, and original summer action picture that really delivered. She shows a great visual style here that pinpoints emotion greatly and really envelopes you into every fiber of this film. Possibly less than half of Bigelow’s movies in her thirty year career have actually been box office successes, and that’s a horrible shame. I think she is an incredible director who showed a great deal of potential here, which she would capitalize upon in with stunning results in Strange Days. Her collaboration on both pictures with now ex-husband James Cameron really shows through in all the best ways. Point Break shares some common ground with Cameron’s work, and even he draws some parallels between the endings of this movie and Terminator 2. Regardless, I will take no credit away from Bigelow who gave us this excellent pure adrenalin rush of a movie which has not been replicated since. I think it goes without saying that I recommend this movie with great passion.
This film, directed by James Mangold, is one that I was very impressed with in its original theatrical release, and revisiting it now, it still holds up as an effective thriller. Supported by a remarkable ensemble cast and a brilliant screenplay, Identity delivers a mind-bending story that cleverly weaves its way around a classic murder mystery premise.
Strangers from all different walks of life are all trapped by a torrential rain storm on a Nevada road one night. They are forced to take shelter at an old roadside motel, run by the nervous manager Larry (John Hawkes). There is Ed Dakota, a limo driver, escorting fading television star Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay), the turbulent married couple of George & Alice York (John C. McGinley & Leila Kinzel) with their young son Timothy (Bret Loehr), Rhodes, a Department of Corrections officer transporting the dangerous convict Robert Maine (Jake Busey), a beautiful call girl (Amanda Peet), and a couple of young newlyweds (William Lee Scott & Clea DuVall). None of them are at ease amongst these strangers, but circumstances become dire when someone begins murdering them one-by-one. Accusations begin to fly as paranoia and fear escalate, but they will all begin to discover very strange truths about their supposed chance encounter here. Meanwhile in an undisclosed location, in an eleventh hour court hearing, psychiatrist Dr. Mallick (Alfred Molina) tries to prove the innocence and sanity of his patient, Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who has been convicted of murder, and is scheduled to face execution in twenty-four hours. How both of these stories connect is a mystery of identity.
This film will keep you guessing from one moment to the next as to many things. Many twists unfold in plot and perception, and when you think this film has twisted your thoughts into many knots, it throws one final one at you. Now, these twists won’t leave you lost, there’s plenty of breathing room and enough exposition to allow you to understand all that is happening. It is very cleverly paced and structured to keep an audience ensnared through the entire mystery. This film is tense, suspenseful, creepy, and haunting. It is an excellent psychological thriller that has far more to it than just a group of people getting killed off in a very Agatha Christie fashion. In fact, no other film I have seen has utilized this genre quite so well. There is just as much psychological terror for the characters as there is for the audience.
Director James Mangold brilliantly builds suspense and paranoia with a troubling sense of unease. A group of strangers stranded in a run down desert motel definitely lends to that feeling. Considering one of them is a known violent criminal heightens that even more. Subtle things are revealed to the audience that add to our apprehension knowing certain people are not who they claim or appear to be. This creates plenty of clever misdirection. Add in some volatile and emotionally distressed characters, and the tension is wrapped so a tight, unnerving level. When that tension finally breaks, it’s heart pounding. The film hardly never allows an audience to relax fully. There’s regularly some form of urgency or excitement that propels the characters forward towards danger.
The style of the film is very original such as with the immediate flashbacks. You’ll see a lot of them at the start and a bit near the end. They show how certain events brought everyone together in a unique non-linear fashion. It nicely punctuates certain plot elements such as it was Paris’ high-heeled shoe that flew out of her opened suitcase that caused the York’s flat tire later that night. It’s a nice, quick storytelling tool that helps move the story ahead quickly without leaving even small questions unanswered. I enjoyed that element quite a bit, and the direction and editing of them was very handled well. The addition of the rain storm throughout the film is classically atmospheric, and adds to the treacherous, mysterious qualities of the plot. Danger and paranoia are abound as things get stranger and stranger, and the torrential rain and thunder claps simply unsettle the characters and the audience further.
The surreal aspects are also subtly handled. They forge an underlying peculiarity for the strangers at the motel. They attempt to explain them in various ways, but eventually, these occurrences go far beyond mere coincidence or rationale. They can’t make sense of it, but it truly freaks them out. It creates a bizarre, twisted web for them all. These aspects build up so beautifully to an absolutely mind-blowing revelation.
Identity is masterfully shot and edited. Shooting in all that nighttime rain never muddles the visuals. We always have a clear picture of what’s happening without sacrificing the dramatic, moody cinematography. The film evenly balances between various indoor and outdoor scenes giving an audience enough variety in the visuals to keep our eyes interested. There is such great atmosphere crafted into how the film is shot, and the editing really supports the lingering suspense expertly. When things begin deconstructing in the third act, the editing creates an amazing visual style which perfectly represents the psychological chaos. It’s all a superbly executed thriller with many gripping twists and turns that have an excellent conclusion.
This ensemble cast is magnificent! There strong performances all around with John Cusack being the obvious trusting protagonist. He brings his usual heart and wit along with a solid dramatic weight. Ed Dakota is a very relatable character with a great depth of pain and desire to do what is right. He’s given a strong back story that Cusack really grasps the emotional weight and guilt Ed carries with him, making him someone we can invest our confidence in.
Ray Liotta has a nice turn showing both a hardened strength and a shadier side that surfaces later on. He is very intense, confrontational, and adversarial while projecting a presence of authority with a more temperamental edge. Jake Busey is convincingly intimidating and dangerous with a crazed look in his eye coupled with his reliable charisma. John Hawkes is another stellar actor who can deliver a deep array of emotions. Here, he runs the full gamut ranging from nervous and skittish to violent and unhinged. And I really have to say that Rebecca De Mornay is hotter here than I have ever seen her before. She’s beyond gorgeous in my view, as I have an affinity for red heads, and she does a wonderful job as the somewhat egotistical actress Caroline Suzanne. She’s definitely a pleasure. And of course, I always expect nothing less than excellence from John C. McGinley, as many do these days, and he doesn’t fail here. His George York is a very nervous man with little self-confidence who doesn’t cope with these violent, tragic situations well. McGinley brings a lot of compassion and simple innocence to this caring husband and step-father.
Alfred Molina is perfect as Dr. Mallick presenting a soft-spoken, intelligent psychiatrist with a sense of empathy. Pruitt Taylor Vince has always impressed me taking on some substantive and sometimes peculiar roles, and doing an exceptionally unique and standout job in them. For what little time he has on screen, he brings that same level of talent to Malcolm Rivers. That jittery eye trick he does seems to land him these off-kilter roles, and it is distinctly effective.
I really have to hand it to the screenwriting talents of Michael Clooney, and especially the directorial abilities of James Mangold. Both crafted together a very solid, smart, and effective thriller that has plenty of genuine scares and suspense to entertain an audience. Because of this, it still has re-watch value. The film is so strong that it would still work just as marvelously without the major twist at the end. The mystery thriller aspect with people being killed off at the motel is just expertly executed in every way. The addition of said twist just ups the psychological brilliance of the concept. I definitely give Identity a wholehearted recommendation, just as I did when it was theatrically released.
Back in my favorite year in film, 1995, David Fincher brought us a terribly disturbing and gripping crime film in Seven that changed the genre dramatically, and set Fincher forth on a very successful, high profile directorial career. His previous film was Alien 3, and that was plagued with production difficulties and creative clashes. It was not a success, but Seven showed what an unencumbered David Fincher was capable of. Supported by a powerful cast and a brilliant screenplay, this didn’t just spark his career, it ignited it.
Lieutenant Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a seasoned investigator who is on his final days before retirement. Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) is a young, impulsive cop looking to make a difference, and maybe even a name for himself, here on the grimy, ugly side of this nameless city. They are put together on a series of murders that Somerset soon determines is the work of a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. Each crime is more ghastly than the last as this sociopath “John Doe” uses them as a garish method of preaching. While Mills is quickly convinced that this killer is a certified whack job, Somerset sees the calculating, educated rationale behind these crimes. Both men slowly descend into this frightening and disturbing world that culminates in an unforgettable climax that tests the resolve of both men.
While there had been serial killer films before this, Seven really applied an original concept and environment to the subgenre. Having the killer, John Doe, be motivated by the seven deadly sins opened up the film to social commentary, and that is handled exceptionally well. Somerset is someone who you would like to know what kind of person he was before he was damaged by the apathy and amorality of the world. He’s someone that appears to have once strongly believed in certain admirable principals, but has since lost his zeal for them. He’s perhaps looked far too deep for too long into the grimy darkness of humanity, and Mills is someone who, likely, hasn’t looked deep enough. He judges everything on surface appearances, and doesn’t entertain the possibilities of a deeper psychological analysis of their adversary. Somerset slowly tries to educate Mills to be a more insightful and knowledgeable investigator, and while it brings them more into alignment with one another, it can’t wholly change who Mills is at his core. The scenes of both Detectives discussing philosophies on Doe’s motives and how they reflect upon society are amazingly well written and perfectly acted by Freeman and Pitt.
With the film never stating what city this takes place in, it creates an enveloping environment in which one can never get quite comfortable, and you’re not supposed to. The world of Seven is dangerous, seedy, disturbing, and filthy. This feels like a city where decency of any kind is in the extreme minority. The production design creates a world that is probably even more weathered than Somerset is. There is deep texture put into every aspect of every setting to give it a worn down history. There’s nothing new and shiny here. It’s all old and deteriorated by time. The grime seeps through in every frame of film, and the color timing adds to that further with a slightly de-saturated quality. The near constant rain just adds to the miserable conditions that these characters have trudge through every day. It was an excellent choice to have the entire climax take place outside of the bleak urban environment and put it into a sun-baked desolate open field. The visuals in that sequence depict a dead landscape.
The cinematography of Darius Khondji enhances the production design further with a modern noir quality to it. This is much different than a Michael Mann type of neo noir where things are glossy and colorful, but still offering a depth of darkness. This is a style of noir that emphasizes the dreadful and macabre aspects of this world. It’s meant to show off a gritty, unsettling realism that will horrify. Khondji composes shots with a lot of dramatic weight, and makes use of dolly tracks very well in specific moments. I love the tracking shot after the duel interrogation scene after the “lust” killing. It’s just Somerset and Mills sitting in separate interrogation rooms quiet and still. They are taking a long moment to recover from everything they’ve just witnessed and experienced. The shot smoothly tracks from the one-way window of Somerset’s room to Mills’ room. It’s a quiet downbeat moment for both the characters and the audience to soak it all in. The main action sequence of the Detectives chasing after John Doe is exceptionally well shot maintaining a solid sense of geography with each character, and letting each shot count as the sequence moves from one location to another. The scene constantly evolves adding in new obstacles and dangers along the way. Every aspect of its execution is excellent. Overall, the cinematography of Seven is superb and masterful. It is definitely a result of a cohesive artistic vision.
Rob Bottin was a special make-up effects master starting with his amazing achievements in John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982. In Seven, his signature grotesque and stunningly detailed work is highly evident. He knows how to bring out the garish realistic horror in his creations. It fits Fincher’s visual style dead-on presenting the smallest details with great clarity to make you believe that everything your seeing is frighteningly real. Bottin worked with great filmmakers like Joe Danté and Paul Verhoeven before joining with Fincher, and I could praise Bottin’s body of work to endless extent. It has always had a particularly off-beat and strange approach which reflects Bottin’s personality very well. While Seven went grossly under-appreciated at the Academy Awards with only a well deserved nomination for Best Editing, Rob Bottin won a Saturn Award for his work here, and it was also very well deserved.
It is a very taut and suspenseful story that Andrew Kevin Walker wrote and Fincher executed. No time is really wasted getting our characters into the plot. We learn about them along the way through the investigation instead of introducing them in a standard first act structure of seeing them go through their daily lives before something adverse occurs. How they each approach the case tells us all we need to know about Mills and Somerset, as I stated earlier. The case and plot unfold with a strong sense of mystery and intrigue as both Detectives uncover the chilling theme behind these murders. Each homicide becomes increasingly more graphic and horrific, thus, heightening the twisted psychological state of the killer. Meanwhile, there is Somerset getting to know David and his wife Tracy, portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow, who tries to adjust to their new home, which she is not very fond of. She confides in her husband’s new partner after getting to know his sensible and compassionate manner. These scenes and character beats are nicely interwoven to continue developing these characters and their relationships. This maintains an audience’s invested interest in how they deal with everything that’s going on, and the repercussions of what they encounter.
The film presents a definitely interesting psychological state of its killer. How he gets into police custody is quite unexpected, and sets up a very compelling final act where John Doe is in control. He might be in handcuffs, but he’s the one leading the Detectives towards a chilling conclusion. A friend of mine believes that Brad Pitt over acts drastically in this climax. I’ve never had a problem with it. In that moment, David Mills is severely torn in an agonizing emotional state where he wants to lash out, but repeatedly tries to restrain the urge. He’s already established as an impulsive and brash person, and attempting to not lash out in anger would be extremely difficult for a man like David Mills to do. He’s fighting raw, instinctual emotion, and that would likely result in the reaction Pitt presents here.
Brad Pitt’s performance all around is rich with depth and emotion. Mills is a guy who cares about what he does, and wants to make a difference. He could easily become an ignorant jerk of a character with his brash attitude and closed mindedness, but Pitt gives him enough heart and humanity to make him likeable. He takes the hard headedness, the intensity, the loving husband, the optimistic outlook on humanity, and the naivety and mixes them into a cohesive whole. As do all the characters in this film, David Mills has his complexities, and Pitt makes it all work and make sense. Pitt also visually inhabits the role well giving Mills a dirtier, more gritty look than Pitt had ever adopted before, and truly makes the character seamless with the world he inhabits.
The synergy between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman is solid. They counterbalance one another beautifully with their characters existing with polar opposite mentalities. They hardly ever agree on anything, but are both motivated to see this investigation through to the end. When they occasionally do get on the same page, it’s a great spark that quickly motivates the story forward.
Freeman, as always, is exceptional. He embodies the dour philosophical mindset of William Somerset wholly. Again, he’s a man worn out from the moral decay of society, and only reluctantly gets pulled towards this case. At first, he wants to avoid it, but Somerset’s intuitive and educated mind drives him towards it. Freeman greatly captures that reluctant attraction, and conveys the character’s psychological investigative approach with a great deal of skill and weight. Somerset is very meticulous, never jumping to conclusions, and Freeman has the right seasoned quality and grasp on tone to sell those qualities well. So much of the film’s tone is sold through him. Prior to the appearance of John Doe, all of the religious ideology and deconstruction of motive is carried by Morgan Freeman, and I don’t think anyone else could’ve done it as well as he did. While the screenplay explains it all very well, if handed over to the wrong actor, it might not sell remotely as well or as coherently. Again, it’s all in the tone, which is pitch perfect through Morgan Freeman’s deeply talented abilities.
In the same year that Kevin Spacey gave us his exceptional performance in The Usual Suspects, he also gave us this fascinating surprise performance as John Doe. It’s a greatly subdued and conservative piece of work that makes Doe so much more unsettling. Throughout his screentime, there’s that knowledge that Doe is not done, yet. There is something more chilling and frightening still to come, and Spacey’s performance is very foreboding in the most subtle way possible. He’s in control, and he is reveling in the impending completion of his masterpiece. It’s all amazingly compelling. Spacey won an Academy Award for his turn as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, and this role is equally deserving of that accolade.
The supporting cast is very solid. R. Lee Ermy is the tough Police Captain, but never falls into that Full Metal Jacket stereotype people like to shoehorn him into. While he doesn’t have a great amount of screentime, his character is given enough character beats to make him feel fleshed out and genuine. Gwyneth Paltrow is perfectly cast as Mills’ wife Tracy. She’s a very compassionate and loving woman who is not pleased with their current situation moving into the city, but has no desire to cause David any stress or turbulence by voicing her worries. She is an exceptionally decent young woman that definitely is out of place in this decaying urban setting, and Paltrow plays these emotional beats with depth and heart. Everyone else filling out the cast holds their own strongly, and help to create a very full and dimensional world for this film.
Lastly, Howard Shore composed a strong score by bringing weight to the grim, horrifying atmosphere. It truly emphasizes the drama, urgency, and intensity of the film. It’s not a score that jumps out at you, and nor should it be. It maintains and enhances dramatic tone throughout. Shore has proven to be a widely diverse film composer, and he is able to complement David Fincher’s darker cinematic style so very well here.
Andrew Kevin Walker put together a deeply impressive and stunning screenplay here, and Fincher was the absolute perfect choice to realize it. Much of what I write in these reviews is more than just saying if the film is good or bad. In a case such as this, it’s about spotlighting the brilliant achievements in filmmaking, and analyzing what made it such an instant, powerful classic. Seven is a landmark film for the genre, and especially for New Line Cinema. It was really their first A-list type of film attracting high profile movie stars like Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey, and securing an amazing director with incredible vision in David Fincher. It’s entirely shot as a major studio film, and strongly moved New Line Cinema into contention as a serious, big budget studio. Only six years later would they release The Lord of the Rings trilogy to massive commercial and critical success. This was a pivotal film for both the studio and David Fincher. It is an all around shocking and amazing piece of work that delivers an intelligent story with thematic and dimensional elements along with startling images of graphic horror.