Author Topic: Zodiac ****  (Read 1321 times)


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Zodiac ****
« on: January 22, 2009, 06:26:46 PM »
4 out of 5

San Francisco in the late 60s is terrorized by an enigmatic serial killer, calling himself The Zodiac and taunting detectives by sending codes to the newspapers. He was never caught, but a cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) at the Chronicle never gives up, obsessively picking up where the police have seemingly left off and eventually believing he has proved the killers identity. But at what cost?

This is an epic tour de force by director David Fincher, seemingly as obsessed with detail and authenticity as Graysmith himself. It's a long film at almost 3 hours but engrossing. That one killer could hold a city essentially to ransom for so long is fascinating. Nerdy, socially inept cartoonist Graysmith is very well played by Gyllenhaal who convinces as the character develops and never gets overshadowed by the as usual superb RDJ, and becoming more confident but obsessed in equal measure as he builds and destroys his own family over the years. Early in the film he is doing little more than trying to crack The Zodiac code because he likes puzzles. The real drive of the investigation is by two detectives (Mark Rufallo and Anthony Edwards) and a journalist (Robert Downey Jr.). As the years take their toll on those three in various ways, Graysmith comes to the fore.

That's really the point of the film, as one of its taglines suggested. That not all a serial killers victims lose their lives. Just their friends, family, health and sanity!

As it's more drama, bordering on documentary, than it is thriller, this is an incredible achievment by Fincher. It's very detailed and studious, but he still finds room for tension and flair. The murder scenes are few, but very graphic as you'd expect, and the dialogue is lively. He concentrates on evoking a sense of time which comes across vividly. And there are lighter moments, especially when Rufallo's Toschi (who McQueen based Bullitt on apparently) walks out of a Dirty Harry screening, muttering about "due process"! Later there's a brilliant scene where Graysmith goes to one potential suspects house against his better judgement. Then of course, seeing the net tighten so very close around the most likely suspect, just to let him go again is a screaming at the TV moment! The final scene is fantastic, delivering on a promise made earlier by Graysmith that he just wanted to look the killer in the eyes. Aparently happened too, if not quite the same way.

It's a straightforward plot and like any true story that you hadn't really followed before, hard to review. It sags a bit in the middle, but it is an exhausting pace. If I have one complaint, I was disappointed by how little the San Francisco seems to come across. As I said before, he really evoked a sense of time, but not place. Unlike classic San Francisco set films, like the before-mentioned Bullitt and Dirty Harry, or Vertigo, I was left feeling like this could have happened anywhere. That was odd considering Zodiac was synonomous with the city. In fact I heard later that one key location was unavailable and had to be recreated with a CGI backdrop; I think you can tell. The next evening I watched Gone Baby Gone and that brought home just how important environment can be.

But that said, this is obviously a passion project for Fincher and has been for some time. The more visceral Se7en now seems like it was inspired by the Zodiac legend. It's a story that could easily have been done by Scorcese, Eastwood or even Spielberg, but I feel that only Fincher could do it this well. It's quite a unique film really, despite police procedurals being very common.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2009, 09:30:23 PM by Jon »