Two, the Hard Way

Try to imagine a buddy-cop version of Silence of the Lambs, with a gloomy, menacing, all-pervasive modern gothic atmosphere so thick it feels like a nine inch nails video. Then factor in a bunch of grisly murders based on the seven deadly sins. Add a creepy Hannibal Lecteresque villain, pin-up boy Brad Pitt in a low-gloss role, and the estimable Morgan Freeman in one of the finest performances of his career as Pitt's meticulous, assiduous partner, and you've got Seven, a surprisingly taut thriller from director David Fincher (Alien3).

As in that third installment in the Alien series, Fincher proves adept at evoking a cheerless, murky netherworld where the sun never shines, people lead lives of quiet desperation, and death seems almost a relief. Lt. William Somerset (Freeman) is the burnt-out veteran homicide investigator on the brink of retirement. A hard-shelled loner, Somerset is charged with breaking in his gung-ho replacement, Det. David Mills (Pitt). The last thing Somerset wants is a messy case, and his instincts tell him that the bloated carcass of an overweight man forced to eat until his stomach burst will prove to be exactly that.

Sure enough, the corpulent cadaver is merely the first victim of a serial killer seeking to exact his pound of flesh for the ills of modern society. There are too many threadbare traditions at work to call Seven a great thriller -- the body count rises, partners Somerset and Mills don't see eye to eye at first but eventually come to respect each other, the killer's identity emerges, and the murders are solved. In these regards, Seven resembles any number of other cop-chases-deadly-wacko movies from Dirty Harry to Manhunter. But Seven has a few aces up its sleeve. Fincher's moody metropolitan setting, the plot's occasional surprise twists, Freeman's outstanding performance, Pitt's charisma, and the macabre tone set by Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay -- all combine to fashion bone-chilling suspense. In Seven's case, first-rate execution adds up to far more than the sum of its parts.

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