Andrew Dignan’s review published on Letterboxd:
First viewing since 2010 although at this point I've seen it enough times that I knew most of it by heart (let’s not interrogate why I was watching the film so frequently in my teens and twenties). Not sure what there's left to say about the film other than it’s the perfect Trojan horse: an outwardly dopey high concept thriller produced in the aftermath of SILENCE OF THE LAMB’s success that smuggled in non-superficial debate about the nature of sin, moral decay and apathy that still absolutely rips as a police procedural. Came away from this with a newfound appreciation of Pitt’s performance which is complicated by the fact that he’s playing a straight up meathead (prone to juvenile tendencies and lashing out when frustrated, casually throws around “faggot” and “retard,” projects unearned confidence and machismo yet has his tie pre-tied the night before so he can slip it on in the morning, etc) which is incongruous with how we’re conditioned to view our protagonists but is essential to the film’s grand design and the final scene in particular. The performance is offset by Freeman’s who, in a stark contrast, is perhaps the most self-reflective movie detective in history. It’s not just that he’s conversationally versed in Saint Thomas Aquinas and Chaucer but that he’s internalized his rote, “veteran cop trying to retire,” narrative as a personal failing. The character understands his desire to run from the job/city is a cowardly response to an inhumane world and recognizes that there’s no place for him in it*. It’s somehow only just occurred to me that the character and Spacey’s Jon Doe are functioning as opposite sides of the same coin: they both call out the same societal ills but one has chosen resignation while the other goes the serial killer as a performance artist route. Such a definitive time capsule of the mid 90’s with its aestheticized gloom, embrace of industrial rock and its reflection of a society that cultural scolds had assured us had descended into the gutter (the film was released a year after NATURAL BORN KILLERS and a couple months before the MONEY TRAIN attacks, which really felt like halcyon days for conservative politicians showing their asses condemning pop culture) and yet the filmmaking feels timeless--thanks to some counterintuitive costume choices, smart use of downtown LA architecture and Shore's moody score--and even a little restrained. I got into it a bit in my PANIC ROOM write-up but these early Fincher thrillers are just so strong on the fundamentals that I don’t even pick up on the filmmaking, I just get swept up in watching them. Nothing this hopeless should be this easy to revisit and yet here we are.
*This preceded McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men by a decade and I see a lot of Somerset in the Ed Tom Bell character.