Not a movie for the squeamish — I was forewarned, fortunately, by a nice woman next to me in line. This was another in my local theater’s series of films called Science on Screen, and it was preceded by a short talk about serial killers from a forensic psychiatrist. Lovely! He asked the audience how many people had not seen the movie, and when those proved to be a substantial number of us, he said he would not include any spoilers. But in fact he did — I’m not sure whether I would have known the last victim’s identity in advance otherwise. Perhaps knowing in advance made it less horrible when it came along at last.
Here is a brief description from the promo email: “In an unidentified city rife with urban and moral decay, two homicide detectives, retiring veteran William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and newly transferred David Mills (Brad Pitt), hunt for a serial killer who meticulously stages each murder based on one of the seven deadly sins.”
Until the last action scene, the movie was unrelentingly dark — dark apartments, dark rooms, dark offices, dark stairways, dark car interiors, dark skies. And it rained a lot. I suppose the filmmakers wanted to make a point — that in this unidentified depressing and depressed place, things were dark indeed. They definitely had to lay it on with a trowel, though, for me to notice — I don’t usually come up with such concrete observations of filmmaking technique.
And the dark city was always crowding in on the characters — again, the only scene where it wasn’t like that was the last big scene, which took place out in the open, a long way from the city, in a desert-like environment with bright orange light everywhere. I am not sure what it was supposed to mean, however: I am no film student, after all! I could go look it up, I suppose, but then, so could you, dear reader. Possibly I would figure it out upon repeated viewings of the movie, but I am not sure I could take seeing it again.
One positive aspect of this film for me was the surprising importance of the public library, both to the plot and as a location. In the library scenes, the darkness didn’t seem as foreboding — was that because of my overwhelmingly positive feelings about libraries, or because the filmmaker somehow staged them that way? At any rate, it is again gratifying to see a library having a prominent and constructive role.
Morgan Freeman was great, Brad Pitt was good, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s role was a bit off, I thought. I tried to imagine her playing it some other way, but those were the lines she was given; there wasn’t much she could do with them other than what she did.