Seven concerns the investigation of a series of murders linked to the seven deadly sins. We are told that the killer remains so long at large because he is especially clever, leaving behind no clues to his identity. I have a different theory. Seven is a dark film, figuratively but more importantly literally. I think the clues are there, but the police can’t find them in the beams of their silly flashlights. Well, that and the fact that it shows a certain deficiency of mind never to have grasped the concept of the overhead light.
Of course, it’s all in the service of mood and atmosphere and metaphor, but I find I prefer my metaphor with a few more photons. On the other hand, only in the darkness could some of the film’s banal observations on life appear to be profound. “I sympathize completely,” Detective William Somerset tells his partner, David Mills. “Apathy is the solution. I mean, it’s easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It’s easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It’s easier to beat a child than it is to raise it.” Is it? Somerset, supposedly cultured, well-read, and wise, comes off as jaded when in fact he is merely myopic. As Mills says, Just having a library card doesn’t make you Yoda.
It helps enormously if you buy into the film’s conceit that the detectives are working in Hell. In Hell, nothing much needs to make sense except as a form of punishment. In Hell, a man can kill five people in five days, each one meticulously planned to allow plenty of time for slow torture, and he can do this without attracting the eye of a single witness or leaving a single clue. In Hell, obviously, one never sleeps. Which is a bummer since it’s always so damn dark.
Fortunately the actors are all quite good. Morgan Freeman as Somerset, Brad Pitt as Mills, and Kevin Spacey as…well, Kevin Spacey. Morgan certainly sounds good spouting all his nonsense. And the film has a few genuinely funny moments sprinkled about, as when Mills tires of the source material for the seven deadly sins — books like Dante’s Inferno — and gets the Cliff’s Notes versions instead. But it’s all in the service of a story that gets its weltanschauung wrong. Here, apathy leads to crime. The reality is far worse: it leads to not caring about crime.