on September 22, 1995 by Carole Glines
   America's ongoing fascination with serial killers is reflected again in "Seven," a kind of New Wave "The Silence of the Lambs" that wisely offers more psychological thrills than gore. Although the script and direction don't always mesh, the movie has more going for it than the gruesome ads ("Seven deadly sins. Seven ways to die") suggest.
   New York detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) investigate a succession of murders based on gluttony, greed, sloth, et al. For old-pro/bachelor Somerset, the bizarre case is his last before a much-anticipated retirement; for young Pitt, who like his homesick wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is new to the big city, it's a chance to prove his ability. The two cops clash at first but become close while tracking the elusive murderer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) -- who has a shocking surprise for the pair.
   Many of "Seven's" elements are familiar from other movies and TV, but writer Andrew Kevin Walker has fashioned an unusually intelligent screenplay. The characters discuss the apathy of modern man with references to Dante and Aquinus but, amazingly, none of it seems pretentious. Unfortunately, Walker's script is at cross-purposes with David Fincher's flashy direction. While Walker aims at profundity, Fincher -- a veteran of Madonna videos and "Alien3" -- jiggles his camera all over the place. However, although those tired of the hand-held might groan, Fincher undeniably builds excitement with his approach. Rarely does he resort to graphic killing scenes, instead mostly showing the aftermath of violence. The incredible climax, a duel in the sun, is as strong a suspense scene as you can find, and it's particularly pleasing because it occurs in a blaze of sunlight that counterpoints the rest of the movie's rainy and shadowy settings. The high-tension wires that surround the characters provide a good indication of what's going on in the audience.
   Freeman has the authority and presence to pull off lines that few actors could. Pitt acquits himself admirably but coasts too much on his considerable charm as the stereotypical young gun. But it's Spacey, one of our least-heralded actors (though this turn and his recent work in "The Usual Suspects" and "Swimming With Sharks" could change that), who steals the show in a juicy part he makes his own (despite our fond memories of Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning performance in "The Silence of the Lambs"). Viewers looking for a silver-screen gross-out will be disappointed, but others will appreciate this mature thriller, which proves once again that the best suspensers keep their violence off-camera.    Starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey. Directed by David Fincher. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Produced by Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle. A New Line release. Thriller. Rated R for grisly afterviews of horrific and bizarre killings, and for strong language. Running time: 125 min.
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