Morgan Freeman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Detective William R. Somerset in Seven.
Morgan Freeman plays the elder detective on the case who also just happens to be a few days away from retirement, who also has to deal with his fresh over eager new partner Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) who just transferred into what one would assume is the country. Somerset has obviously been the detective in the city for some time, what city exactly is never named. It seems to be a dank pit of place where it seems to always rain, and the dirt never seems to come off representing apparently the worst of any urban environment. Seven is very interesting in the way that it does actual have a very distinct style yet always feels as though it is in the realm of reality. This passes onto the main character of Detective Somerset who has a certain style about himself that it well realized through Morgan Freeman's performance. Somerset does have a way of speaking but what Freeman does so well to begin with is he never allows this to overwhelm his performance, or in any way make this seem a forced element in the character. The old time detective style of the man feels wholly natural in Freeman's performance, and he makes it simply the man who Somerset is. He completely internalizes the style in quite a fascinating way, by having it there, but never letting it define the character or his performance.
Freeman manages to do this, in part, in the way he brings it into the man created through the experiences that Somerset no doubt has had while as a homicide detective. Freeman presents the method of Somerset particularly well in his performance just in the way he maneuvers in a crime scene or examines a piece of evidence. Freeman portrays this in a particularly fluid manner as though this is just almost instinct at this point for Somerset in the way he goes about his duties. Freeman shows it as a man who is in his element as a detective, for better or worse, as it is something he seems wholly comfortable with in terms of going through the motions of his work. This is of course in stark contrast to how he feels emotionally about the work. Freeman is outstanding in depicting just how exasperated Somerset is. What's special about what Freeman achieves though is that he does not just play it like Somerset is just tired of everything and wants to quit. Freeman makes more than that in his presentation as something existential in terms of what the world of the city seems to represent more than even just his own experience, as every painful reminder he receives in random crimes, Freeman conveys a resigned understanding as though this is just the way things are.
As the investigation progresses the film also depicts the relationship between the two new partners as they try to work together despite their rather different personalities. The young Mills is a short tempered man though seemingly with a simpler and more optimistic view of the world which is well presented in Pitt's eager and energetic performance. This plays particularly well against Freeman's far more reserved work, and I love the way Freeman interacts with Pitt throughout the film. This is not a buddy cop duo who are trading insults between each other while carrying a mutual affection, rather the two are opposed and connected in a far different fashion. Where Mills seems extremely energetic in order to solve the case as quickly as possible, Freeman carries Somerset in a very stately manner as which fits his way to try to take each clue at a time to exhaust all possibilities. There is a harder edge, though interestingly he's the far less brash sort, that Freeman realizes in just the way Somerset seems to expect to see something horrible at all the crimes scenes. Freeman is excellent in the way he so honestly portrays Somerset's point of view as he so bluntly attempts to warn Mills away from his own job because he's too aware of what the job entails.
Freeman's work is remarkable as he does not make Somerset merely just someone who is merely trying to scare Mills off the job as well as apparently trying to change his more uplifting view of the world. Freeman, even while Somerset is telling Mills exactly how little he things of people's morality in general, brings still an abundance of warmth in this strangely enough. Freeman makes it extremely effective though and Freeman suggests always that Somerset is trying to tell Mills these things for his own good and not simply because he's bitter or something. Freeman always brings a genuine sense of concern in Somerset as he departs his wisdom to Mills both towards detective work as well as towards life. Freeman carries this past in a few scenes that Somerset shares with Mills's wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). Freeman especially earns the bit of tenderness that these scenes entail because he does not compromise Somerset in the moment. His world view is never forgotten even in these moments as he still states his beliefs in such a somber matter of fact fashion. Nevertheless Freeman does again reveal that there is always a heart within this pessimism that in fact is what seems to pain Somerset the most, as Freeman shows that really he'd rather view the world with optimism but he just can't bring himself to do so.
Of course the film is entrenched in the investigation where every murder is almost absurdly grisly in nature all following a theme. Freeman presence carries us through each room of horror and is fascinating in the he manages an emotional connect in each. What's fascinating about it is that Freeman does stay reserved establishing Somerset's thick skin regarding what it is that he sees. Again though Freeman does not make Somerset a hollow man whose lost all connection to these things. Freeman instead brings such power just in very subtle moments that reveal Somerset's true feelings towards what he sees. He's especially poignant in just his silence in one point where Somerset interrogates a traumatized man who was forced to become a living tool in one of the killer's murders. Freeman brilliantly keeps this until the climax of the film where Somerset and Mills are sent with the killer to one final destination. Now Freeman's importance in the scene is made all the greater, because the finale happens to be the scene where Pitt unfortunately falters a bit. Freeman does not especially in the pivotal moment where Somerset opens a box containing the remains of the killer's last victim. Freeman makes the moment all the more chilling and devastating by showing that this one thing that even seems to break Somerset's reserve. Freeman continues to be amazing as Somerset tries to convince Mills to do the right thing as there is such a striking severity in his voice, and is incredibly moving as he also quietly conveys just how devastated Somerset is from the revelation as well. Somerset's final please are perfectly delivered by Freeman as he has Somerset so earnestly attempting to save Mills's own soul. This is a great performance by Morgan Freeman as he matches the strength of his material and being essential in realizing its emotional core in heart wrenching detail.