Two detectives investigate a series of murders linked to the seven deadly sins. (If you've forgotten the mnemonic, WASPLEG, these are Wrath, Avarice, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony. But, let's face it, it doesn't really matter; it's just a hook.) We are told that the killer remains so long at large because he is especially clever, leaving behind no clues to his identity. This, however, is a very dark film, figuratively but more importantly literally. The clues are probably there, the police just can't find them in the beams of their silly flashlights. On the other hand, only in the darkness could some of the film's bizarre observations on life appear to be profound. "I sympathize completely," Detective William Somerset tells his young partner, David Mills. "Apathy is the solution. I mean, it's easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It's easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It's easier to beat a child than it is to raise it." Is it? Somerset, supposedly cultured, well-read, and wise, comes off as jaded when in fact he is merely myopic. As Mills says, just having a library card doesn't make you Yoda. Fortunately the actors are all quite good. Morgan Freeman as Somerset, Brad Pitt as Mills, and Kevin Spacey as...well, Kevin Spacey. Morgan certainly sounds good spouting all his nonsense. And the film has a few genuinely funny moments sprinkled about, as when Mills tires of the source material for the seven deadly sins -- books like Dante's Inferno -- and gets the Cliff's Notes versions instead. But it's all in the service of a story that gets its weltanschauung wrong. Here, apathy leads to crime. The reality is far worse: it leads to not caring about crime.
"[T]he crime scenes are rendered in sickening detail, and the whole film has a murky, madly pretentious tone. Visually, the effect is that of spending a long time looking at a bowl of oatmeal on a rainy day." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times, September 22, 1995
"[I]t is, like Silence Of The Lambs, a genuine original which, if it leaves a brackish taste in the mouth, nevertheless keeps you on the edge of your seat." - Derek Malcolm, Thursday 4 January 1996