Like a practiced serial killer, “Seven” drops subtle clues about where it’s headed throughout. The film begins with world-weary detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) shuffling around his dingy apartment before that ground-breaking credits sequence unfolds. Having witnessed decades of crime and degradation plague the unnamed city in which he lives, Somerset is adrift in a sea of apathy and pessimism ahead of a rapidly approaching retirement. But before he can leave, he’s teamed up with young, idealistic, and hot-tempered Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) to take on the case of a serial killer that uses his victims as centerpieces in gruesome, theologically-inspired tableaus.
Mills has just moved to the city with his wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s struggling to adapt to life in the harsh, crime-addled environment. She confides in Somerset that, much like him, she’s yearning to escape — especially because, unbeknownst to her husband, she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to raise a child in the city.
Meanwhile, Somerset and Mills investigate yet more horrific crime scenes as the serial killer known only as John Doe (Kevin Spacey) continues his murders inspired by the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, pride, envy, and wrath. But before the pair have the satisfaction of arresting their man, he turns himself in at the police station, covered in blood and addressing himself directly to Mills.
Once in custody, Doe reveals that unless the two detectives accompany him to an unnamed location, he’ll plead insanity and likely get off with a reduced sentence. On top of that, he’ll never reveal the location of his final two victims — envy and wrath — forcing Mills and Somerset to agree to his demands.