Review – Count To Se7en, I Mean, Eight (“The Little Things”)

So, the Equalizer, Freddy Mercury, and the Joker walk into a bar… and fight to see who can out act each other. Written, co-produced, and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), this HBOMax police drama movie has shades of Se7en, but without any heads in boxes.   

It’s murder most foul in the San Fernando Valley circa 1990 as a serial killer has claimed six women’s lives and the police are baffled. One day, a small-town deputy sheriff from Kern County comes in to pick up some evidence; that man is ex-LAPD homicide detective, Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington). Why is he an ex-detective and why do many treat him like dirt? Well, more on that later, but for now he’s had a run-in with new hot-shot LAPD detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malik) who’s in charge of the killings. Hearing of Joe’s previous prowess with detective work, Jimmy asks him to look at the latest grisly murder scene.

No stranger to the killer’s m.o., Joe immediately picks-up on ‘the little things’, the small details that others overlook and sticks around for a few days to help with the investigation, much to the chagrin of Joe’s former LAPD boss (Terry Kinney). After piecing together clues, Joe tracks down a very weird repairman named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) who might be the killer, but there’s no evidence. Obsessed with his own personal past, Joe pairs up with Jimmy and together they decide to do everything they can to prove this super-creepy guy is the killer.

But Albert is not your run-of-the-mill nut-job. He’s clever, calculating, loves to play cat-and-mouse games, and is seriously twisted. The third act takes you by surprise, as it reminds you of the desert scene in Se7en, but goes in a different direction, pulling the rug out from under you. Writer, director Hancock has given us Saving Mr. Banks and Snow White & the Huntsman, but this gripping character study is especially effective, giving all three main actors some great performances to work with. And check out Hancock’s whip-smart direction with his use of mirrors and reflections. Very eerie and disturbing, but in a good way!

The screenplay alone is wonderful; a sleek, smart, who-done-it, full of mystery, twists, and rich dialogue. And the cast! Washington is in his Man On Fire mode, giving a subtle, nuanced, graceful performance, while Malik is all hard-edged and by-the-book, but you know he’s ready to crack. Then there’s Mr. Bizarre himself, Jared Leto. This guy revels in off-the-wall characters, like the psychotic Joker, a god-complex industrialist (Blade Runner 2049), or his upcoming Morbius vampire movie. Just looking at his Albert Sparma you can see the wheels of lunacy spinning in his eyes. He steals the movie easily. 

**Available in whatever theaters are actually open and on HBOMax.

Se7en aka Seven (1995)

As stylized as Hitchcock, Spielberg, or Scorsese, director David Fincher really knows how to deliver the heebee-jeebees in a movie. And this movie was a perfect example, with a blistering finale where Brad Pitt wails, “What’s in the box?!”. That scene freaked me out.

Soon-to-retire Detective Lieutenant William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is partnered up with short-tempered, but idealistic Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), who has recently moved with his wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). The two detectives form an uneasy alliance, but it’s Tracy that secretly confides with easy-going Somerset that she is pregnant and hasn’t told her hubby yet. Why? Fact is, she’s miserable being in the big city and feels it’s no place to raise a child. Boy, she ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie! 

Pretty soon Somerset and Mills investigate a set of murders inspired by the Biblical seven deadly sins: a morbidly obese man forced to eat until his stomach burst (gluttony), a criminal defense attorney cuts a pound of flesh away from his body (greed), an emaciated child molester is left for dead in his apartment (sloth), a guy kills a prostitute with a blade strap-on (lust), and so on. And in each ghastly murder scene, a clue is left behind that could lead to the killer’s identity. Somerset and Mills get close, in fact SO close, that Mills actually tracks him down and corners him, but the killer gets the upper hand. Surprisingly, the serial killer does NOT murder Mills!

In a shocking third act twist, the killer, known only as John Doe (Kevin Spacey) turns himself in at the police station, drenched in incriminating blood. But whose blood is it? In another twist, he’s willing to confess all, BUT, he’ll only do it with Det. Mills. In the middle of an undisclosed location. WAY out of town. In the film’s most nail-biting and heart-pounding conclusion, Mills and Somerset drive John Doe to the middle of nowhere where they meet a FedEx van delivering a small box. What’s in the box? Yeah, that’s the BIG secret that made everyone gasp!

This is another one of those cinematic matches made in Heaven: a brilliant screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (Sleepy Hollow, 8mm), creepy, atmospheric direction by Fincher, and a superb, top-notch cast. Besides having one of the most remembered quotes in film history, it’s also remembered for Brad Pitt nearly losing his arm in a stunt accident! That chase in the alley in the rain when he falls? Yeah, he really got hurt and tore up his arm so bad, he had to wear a cast for the rest of the film! Fincher wrote it into the movie to save his film.

This movie has it all, exquisite filmmaking, a script that is beautifully constructed and written, with a payoff that makes you sick to your stomach, Fincher’s masterful direction that gives you a feeling of dread that you never know what’s going to happen next, and the stellar acting chops of Freeman, Pitt, Paltrow, and Spacey. Oh, and check out the disturbing credits, they run in backward order! Pretty twisted, huh?

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