Here it is. I thought it would take longer to make a decision but the winner became very apparent last night as I thought it over in. So here it is in all it's convoluted glory. And be warned I spoil Seven's ending...then again this is the spoiler thread.
Seven vs. Contact
At first glance both films seem to have little in common with each other. Seven is a serial killer thriller, Contact a philosophical sci-fi drama. One has a hardcore R rating, the other a tame PG. One is interested with the deaths of people, the other in the possible existence of extraterrestrial life. One is cynical, the other hopeful. Yet there is one strong thread that ties both together: the use of religion. Seven captures the infatuations of a killer who picks his victims on the basis of the seven deadly sins. Contact explores the o so controversial science vs. faith argument. Will Contact be lost in space? Or is Seven destine to atone for its sins in purgatory? Read on to finds out.
Directed by David Fincher
Seven is a simple idea yet as the film progresses one realizes all the complexities involved. The murders each have some kind of twisted meaning and the clues left by the killer are deliberate. There's no denying it, this is a well crafted serial killer thriller. Yet while it starts strong the ending just doesn't ring true. I don't for a moment buy the killer turning himself in and the cops going along with it. It would have been better if the killer set himself up to be caught while making the cops think they had got him with his guard down. Now that would have been in line with the killer's complex thinking. Having the killer turn himself in is nothing more than a cheap way to make a tidier runtime. It's forced, doesn't ring true to the character and derails the last act of the film. The final confrontation is so predictable that I found myself disinterested. I also dislike the fact that Brad Pitt's character gives in and kills the killer. It's pandering to the audience at the lowest level, fulfilling their desires to see the killer perish. It would have been much more effective if the Pitt character let him live and put his faith in the justice system.
I also have a big problem with the killer's mindset. It's quite complex and intricate, but there are several holes. He seems to set up rules and then break them. At first his motive is clearly a religious one: the wages of sin is death. Yet as the film progresses he lets two live, one a man chained to a bead for a year and the Pitt character (although Death Row in implied in which case the film should have ended with the invalid dieing in the hospital bed and Pitt meeting his end in the electric chair).Also, why not kill Pitt in the alleyway in his moment of wrath? Then the killer could simply mosey up to the Pitts house and shoot himself for envy, now that I could buy as the killer is trapped by his own rules. I also found that the death of Gwyneth Paltrow's character was out of character for the killer. In all other instances he only kills the sinner and no one else. For instance in the Lust killing he leaves the man alive. Yes, I saw it coming, but found it was nothing more than a contrived way to inflict Pitt's wrath. Overall Gwyneth Paltrow's character was mostly wasted. I have a feeling that somewhere on the cutting room floor there were more sequences with her in them that just didn't fit the runtime.
I felt that what this film needed was a better written, more drawn out third act. Instead the film tries to cut corners and it shows. Yet I really was impressed by this film. Technically I can't fault it and I think Fincher knows how to make just about any shot interesting to look at without being visually obtrusive. At least for the first two acts it's one of the most well crafted thrillers of this, or any, decade.
Directed by Roger Zemeckis
I'll admit it now, I have a disposition towards such thoughtful and philosophical sci-fi films. So I don't expect everyone to love this film as much as me. That being said I'm not here to pick the film I personally love more, but which one is the better film. At first glance this lineup seems fairly simple as I will be the first to admit that Contact has its share of problems (Matthew McConaughey anyone?). The first thirty minutes of this film were choppy and the jumping back and forth in time messed up the pacing of the first act. Yet as the film progressed I realized these thirty minutes were the setup to an amazing two hour film. So many moments later in the film built upon moments in the first thirty minutes of this film. Once the film kicked up I was riveted from beginning to end. I dare you to find a dull moment in the last two hours of this film. From Jodi Foster's obsession with discovering alien life to the politics of how contact with an extraterrestrial life would be handled each scene is deliberate, purposeful and engaging. I even found the film emotionally moving at times and the sequence on the beach is the most awe inspiring moment I've seen in a good long time.
I also just love seeing Tom Skerritt as the villain of the film. His character has a great arc and does a great job of being a sniveling little two timer without ever becoming outright menacing or threatening. His tongue is much more effective than any physical contact. It's a deeper, more nuanced villain than I was expecting from the character as he truly more than a stuffy bureaucrat.
Where this film takes it to a whole other level for me is in the ideological conflict between science and faith. In many ways Jodi Foster's character is a paradox. On the one hand she will only believe something if backed up by scientific fact. On the other she is open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life, a possibility she takes on faith. Can science and faith coincide or are the two forever two ends of a spectrum with no middle ground? The film gives a somewhat vague but interesting answer. Underlying it all is a search for purpose. Jodi Foster is driven by a desire to find some kind of purpose in the universe and believes it can be found by contacting alien civilizations. Most of these ideas are bounced off the Matthew McConaughey character who is always able to ask piercing questions.
Contact starts off rough but once the real meat of the film kicks in there is an absolutely gripping two hour film here. It has acting woes here and there but the characters are solid. It's also one of those films where a simple exchange of dialogue can give us deep insights into the character's thoughts, emotions and essence. I was surprised by just how good Contact was and found it to be a very powerful and meaningful film.
In several sequences Contact employs the philosophical argument of Ockam's Razor which says all things equal the simplest explanation is the best. If we are going for sheer simplicity Seven wins hands down. It's a simple idea handled in a complex way. Contact, on the other hand is complexities built upon complexities. But one has to ask the question: are the two films equal?
From sheer moments of bad film Contact suffers from a bad first act, Seven from a bad third act. Contact lacks the slick style and technical prowess of Fincer's directing. But for a film about sin Seven actually has nothing worthwhile to say about it and uses it as nothing more than an interesting way to perpetuate violence and plot. Contact is a film perpetuated by ideologies, philosophical thought and character identity. Fincher is more interested in crafting a technically astounding and stylized film than in having anything meaningful behind it all. Put simply it's a classic example of style over substance. Contact is a film that a film that for all intents and purpose is built upon nothing but substance.
At first I was torn perfectly between the two, totally indecisive. But as I thought both over I found more and more faults in Seven and more and more things to like in Contact. Making the assumption that the better film is one that has something substantial behind it Contact is the clear winner. And that's the way I have to go. And there you have it. Contact moves on into the upper echelon of the American 90's bracket space while Seven is destined to work its way up Dante's seven rings of 90's bracket hell.