Now, I presume I don't have to list the 7 deadly sins for you, but just in case and for consistency: gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust and envy.
Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) has recently transferred to a city in America (it doesn't say which, but wherever it is, it rains more than Glasgow!) to work with, and then replace, the retiring and jaded Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). The city is depressing, suffering from urban decay, social decay and general unhappiness. There's a lot of violent crime, homelessness and drugs. Even the flat which Mills and his wife Tracey (Gwyneth Paltrow) - and their two dogs - have moved into is depressing. The camera lens has a brownish hue which captures the decaying essence of the place. Plus, they live above the subway so every 10 or so minutes, *rattle, shake, rattle*.
Mills and Somerset are brought into the unusual death of a morbidly obese man, who has been sadistically forced to feed himself until he died. This scene is dark and creepy. The body in the dingy apartment and the sheer neglect of everything is very sad. There is the word 'Gluttony' written in grease behind the fridge. This is where the discovery of the murders begins, but for John Doe (Kevin Spacey); our friendly neighbourhood psychopath acting out 'god's will' in his masterpiece of gruesome and horrific 'justice'; the wheels were set in motion long ago. It becomes apparent early into the detectives' investigation that Doe is letting them find the murders when he is ready. He basically points them in the direction once he's finished. He is methodical, disturbed and determined. Everything that is scary about psychopaths.
The deaths build up day upon day, with some alarming scenes. The bodies are gruesome and lots is shown without showing much, if you understand my meaning. The scenes are haunting because the camera work shows some gorey close ups in flashes, giving you the jist of the scene, before coming back to the investigation. It's very artfully done, and keeps you watching.
Each death is related to the sin the victim was most guilty of, the cruel but beautiful woman who chose death over being disfigured, the greedy lawyer who had to give up a literal 'pound of flesh'... and so on.
The film is very dark, and very quiet. Pitt's character begins as the keen, bright-eyed detective, fresh on the scene and ready to fight for justice. Mills is an uncomfortable man, in a new location with new colleagues. His wife is lonely and unhappy. His career is not what he thought it would be. His attempts to win over his new partner are fruitless, and he is easily affected by the murders and the injustice of the whole situation. By the end of the film, he is not the same man.
Somerset has already been jaded by life and working in the city. His hope for humanity is gone, and he hates that about himself. He is ready to retire, but has nothing left to live for; no family, no love life, no happy thoughts (no fairy dust...). He is a 'straight to the point' man, and knows his job well. Freeman plays the character as both disappointed in life, and yet still hanging on in there for something good to happen. You can see that he's still trying to keep a hold of some hope for humanity.
The killer, John Doe (excellently and accurately portrayed by Spacey) finally gives himself up to the cops, but is this just all part of his plan?
An intelligent film with enough gore to please and some good one-liners from Pitt "Excuse me, sir, but do you happen to be a serial killer?".
The end scenes can be a bit of a shock for those not expecting the twist, I remember being completely dismayed as a teenager when I saw this film for the first time! Not completely a horror film, but a good film worth watching.
Oh, and look out for Dr. Cox from "Scrubs" (John C. McGinley) playing a recurring minor character!
[Image: New Line Cinema]