Zodiac (2007) ****1/2
Directed by David Fincher
No single director in
I have a theory, but it’s not the nicest theory in the world. I’ve never seen Se7en or Panic Room, but I’ve read a lot about them. I have seen Fight Club which is extremely violent and gorgeously shot. Yet, its story lacks depth and consistency. Zodiac may very well be Fincher’s first film that tells an intricate and fully realized story. Therefore, some of his younger fan base may have had expectations that were different than what the film delivers. That’s too bad because now I’m afraid that Fincher might play more to his more showy side as a director and less to his intelligence as a filmmaker.
Zodiac is dark and disturbing, but most of that is out of the way in the first forty-five minutes. The rest of the film becomes a police procedural surrounding the still unsolved cases of the Zodiac killings in and near
For the rest of us who don’t hold Fincher on too high a pedestal, we can appreciate a film like Zodiac for its great performances, its engrossing investigation and especially for its top notch direction. This movie looks gorgeous. There’s a real sense of danger and grittiness that fills the screens throughout, adding to the tension and keeping the viewer unsettled from beginning to end. Take for example a shot involving the construction of a building in order to emphasize the passage of time (the film spans 22 years). I’m not sure if that was done through CGI or special effects or if it was actual film of construction, but it was absolutely amazing—shot at just the right speed to make it clear and yet impressive. I loved that sequence.
After the initial murders, the film focuses on the investigation into the Zodiac killer which is led by Inspectors Toschi and Armstrong (played by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards). Most of the evidence comes from the killer himself in the form of handwritten letters and pieces of bloody fabric. He kills infrequently and doesn’t always follow through with his threats. The story of the killings gains quite a bit of press attention and public interest, but there’s not really a sense of ultimate terror since the murders are so sporadic. The suspect list contains up to 2500 names, but their prime suspect is a man named Arthur Leigh Allen, a suspected pedophile. Handwriting analysis first concludes that Allen isn’t the Zodiac killer, and then deemed inconclusive by a second opinion.
The Zodiac killer stops communicating and killing for three years, but San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and puzzle lover Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes obsessed with the case, much to the annoyance of his wife Melanie (Chloe Sevigny). His investigation leads him into danger when we believe more than once that he may be in the presence of the Zodiac killer.
Robert Downey Jr. plays chronicle reporter Paul Avery who follows the case as the murders are happening and knows more about it than anyone.
All the performances are excellent throughout, including Ruffalo and Dr. Greene himself Anthony Edwards who I’d love to see in more films. There’s been a lot of disagreement over Gyllenhaal’s acting not just in Zodiac but in all his films. While I was watching him, I came to a guess as to why so many think he is a bad actor. Gyllenhaal maybe doesn’t know his natural strengths. His puppy dog eyes and boyishness make him instantly likeable and because of these qualities, he also comes across as innocent. In a film like this, where his character starts off eager and straight edge, he overplays the wide-eyed awe-shucks nice guy shtick. I think underplaying the role would have worked better since he naturally brings a naivety to the screen. You can see that he slouches and waddles in some of the earlier scenes which do not come across as natural and actually make him almost unlikable. In my opinion, later in the film when the crime really eats away at him, he is excellent because he reaches for his darker side in his performance and since he comes across naturally good natured, it’s smart that he decided to go all out to show obsession and aggression.
The end of the story may be a letdown to some, but I think it works great with what the film is—a police investigation thriller. Since it’s based on a legendary real event, had the film gone for more graphic violence, the entire plot would seem inauthentic. Yet, Fincher really tells and shows this story exquisitely. If he wants, Fincher can continue to make ultra-violent, simple-minded films which will all but guarantee box office gold among teenage boys, or he can make films like Zodiac—dark and violent but with a real head on its shoulders. A smart David Fincher film will definitely have me running to the theater!