Year: 1995
Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: David Fincher
Producer: Arnold Kopelson
Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, R Lee Ermey

Buried deep in the end credits of The Empire Strikes Back is a familiar name if you're interested enough to keep watching, that of a young David Fincher as a cameraman's assistant.

From very humble beginnings one of our most revered filmmakers has grown, and this was his calling card to the world, the film he wanted to make and his inimitable style on show after the critical and commercial drubbing of Alien 3.

Seldom has an ordinary police procedural been so striking or original. It wasn't just the high concept hook of killings perpetrated in parallel with the fabled seven deadly sins or the grungy, nihilistic slaughterhouse style before any of us had heard the term 'grindhouse'. It was Fincher's accomplished mastery of the material and how he wanted it to look, an assertion of his talent and craft we've seen again and again since.

When cocky young cop Mills (Pitt) is assigned to a new partner in wise (and wisened) senior detective Somerset (Freeman), the friction between the two is as expected until the film's first left turn when the day is saved and the relationship cemented by the simple act when Mills' pretty wife (then girlfriend Paltrow) invites Somerset to dinner so the three can get to know each other.

At the same time, the sin-themed killings are starting, and Mills and Somerset can only scramble to keep up with the cold and sociopathic killer.

In the film's next left turn, it isn't dogged police work that solves the case, it's when the soft spoken, Dr Crippen-like killer John Doe (Spacey) simply walks into the police station to give himself up and set in motion his masterstroke.

Upon reflection, there's actually nothing ordinary about this police procedural. The cops don't get their man, and even while in their custody Doe is one step ahead of them before the final cruel twist. When Mills guns him down it isn't with a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer style triumph but done with an almost-anonymous long shot in an act of enraged frustration that changes nothing in the world around Mills, his fate as secured as the now-dead murderer.

An example of story, design and performance coming together in the most satisfying way.

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