Zodiac (2007)
Zodiac (2007)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 37 min.

Release Date: March 2nd, 2007 MPAA Rating: R

Director: David Fincher Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney

 


 

“Z

odiac” is a taut epic that examines the lives of the detectives and reporters involved in the notorious real-life case more so than the actual murders (or the culprit) themselves. David Fincher’s masterly direction keeps viewers completely immersed in the careful progression of the investigation, from the initial attacks to the taunting letters and ciphers to the abandonment of the pursuit in the early ‘80s. Thought-provoking and sagely constructed, this superbly acted, dark thriller is perhaps the best of its kind since “The Silence of the Lambs.”

In July of 1969, in California, a serial killer emerges, randomly striking out at isolated people and leaving no evidence behind for the police. The local newspapers receive menacing messages from a man who claims responsibility for the slayings, demanding that his notes and cryptograms be published – or else more victims will turn up. A cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes engrossed in tracking down the murderer over the course of the next decade, even after the police discontinue the search due to insufficient evidence. Meanwhile, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), a writer at the Chronicle, begins a descent into alcoholism during his involvement with the ceaseless fact finding, and Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), the detective heading up the case, becomes disenchanted after all of the jurisdiction and regulation hangups, lending to his inability to properly interrogate prime suspects.

While most people are familiar with the Zodiac killer and the idea that it is supposedly an unsolved mystery, few realize just how close the detectives came – and the fact that overwhelming circumstantial evidence points to a very likely candidate. But for the film, actually catching the culprit is not nearly as important as the thrill of the hunt, or witnessing the effects of the inquest on the reporters and detectives who devoted so much time to investigate it. Like many cops in crime dramas, Robert’s family life slowly deteriorates due to his immoderate commitment to unraveling the mystery, even during lengthy segments of the murderer’s inactivity. Paul is also negatively affected, though his digression seems less related to the scrutiny and more about making reckless decisions. Dave is the only one who keeps a sense of proportion when dealing with the situation, even if he oversteps some legal boundaries in acquiring information that leads them all closer to the truth (but this, of course, makes for quite an absorbing account for the medium’s fictional adaptation).

In real life, though many were scared by the Zodiac and his threats on school buses and children, others scoffed at the ludicrous puzzles and empty warnings. But for a city that was presumably well informed of the various murders, several citizens here behave like stereotypical teenagers in slasher flicks. A woman pulls her car over on a deserted highway in the middle of the night to allow a complete stranger to help fix a tire; then she bums a ride with him with her newborn child after her car becomes immobile. Could this have been an actual act by a grown woman, or were a few creative liberties taken? The Zodiac killer eventually claims several unrelated murders as his own, which makes it apparent that what he really sought was the publicity – which he amply received. Still, without carelessness in the face of danger, there would be no body count or suspense, embellished for cinematic appeal or otherwise.

The violence in “Zodiac” is toned down considerably for a typical David Fincher venture, and it helps commendably, as the anticipation of what might be shown far outweighs the shock of anything actually displayed onscreen. Many sequences of slow-burn anxiety do wonders for the pacing, which somehow manages consistent white-knuckle tension, despite the fact that the film runs nearly three hours long. Since it covers a large amount of time (from 1969 to 1983), timeframes are flashed onscreen constantly to alert the audience of the passing years. Oftentimes, the lapses are only a few hours, or a few days, which might seem inconsequential. But it’s another gimmick that actually aids in better pacing. And by the nerve-wracking finale, which is open-ended but fascinating, it’s evident that an objective, procedural masterwork has transpired, unencumbered by action, exploitation, or Hollywood expectations.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10