Sunday, March 4, 2007


Movie name: Zodiac
Year of release: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Donal Logue, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, John Carroll Lynch, Philip Baker Hall, Chloe Sevigny, Brian Cox, Clea DuVall
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

David Fincher’s new film is what you usually expect from him and so much more. It’s a terrific thriller about the Zodiac killer that terrorized San Francisco in the late 60’s early 70’s. This is a film where everything works in a flawless way, from the acting to the production values – everything comes together to form this incredible and unforgettable film.

Last time David Fincher directed a film, 2002’s Panic Room, a lot of his audience was disappointed, since they considered that film to be a commercial concession unworthy of the talent this hugely talented filmmaker has. Panic Room again showcased his technical virtuosity and a great central performance from Jodie Foster, and it’s respectable box office performance, essentially gave the director time to choose which project to tackle. After being attached to some different projects, namely The Black Dahlia and Lords of Dogtown, Fincher eventually settled on Zodiac, based on a screenplay from James Vanderbilt (more well known for his interesting screenplay for John McTiernan’s Basic).
Zodiac tracks the real killings that occurred since the late 60’s to the early 70’s, in San Francisco, from a serial killer who introduced himself with that name, the investigation that followed and the remaining conclusion that the killer was never caught (as is widely known). This crime spree was also the basis for the Don Siegel film Dirty Harry where Clint Eastwood’s iconic Harry Callahan made his debut, something that is actually inserted in David Fincher’s film.
What sets this film apart from any of the others, is the scope and the the exhausting extension of investigation it goes to in order to present the facts that surrounded the killings and the investigations around it.
Zodiac starts with the killings of a young couple in their car. The killer sends a message to the main newspapers in San Francisco, claiming authorship on that killing and some others. This is how we are introduced to the characters of Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist, and Paul Avery, an investigation reporter. As the killings continue and the police starts their investigations, we are introduced to further characters, namely the inspectors David Toschi and William Armstrong. The clues that keep surfacing aren’t enough to give them any edge over the Zodiac’s threats. They use a handwriting expert to get more insight to the killer’s reasonings, but the clues always lead them to dead ends – something that the bureaucracy and police procedures also help. Eventually reaching a suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen they have to let him go due to insufficient proofs. By then, the years start going by and the killer disappears. When another of his letters resurfaces, Robert Graysmith starts doing his own investigation and uncovering a lot of details that lead him to a possible and certain suspect.
Zodiac has been described as a film that provides you with a huge amount of information about a true case. And that is true – the level of research that has been done in the making of this film is impressive. However it never feels tiresome and repetitive – David Fincher has managed to create a film that is thoroughly engrossing from start to end. Whereas in Seven the details of the killings were always fully exposed, they were the canvas with which the killer expressed himself and how we, the audience knew the character, here the killings are just the beginning for us to understand the journey that the main characters take. For Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith it starts as something interesting that eventually leads to obsession, at the very cost of losing the love of his wife and the unity of his family. For Robert Downey Jr’s Paul Avery, it becomes such a part of his life that he lets himself be consumed by it. For Mark Ruffalo’s Inspector Toschi, it’s something that he, as a policeman can’t overcome – the fact that it is a case unsolved. By focusing on these characters, David Fincher leads us into different perspectives on how this very menacing situation affected the lives of so many people in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60’s/70’s.
David Fincher has mentioned that this is the film where he has matured as a filmmaker – where he has really focused on the story itself, putting his visual and technical flourishes aside. Seeing the film, you have to agree with him, however there are so many accomplished and beautiful shots, that you instantly recognize his touch everywhere – from the tracking shots of the police car, to Harris Savides’ stunning photography (he also worked with Fincher on “The Game” and “Seven”). The film manages to evoke the 60’s and 70’s so vividly that the audience is instantly carried away – the production design and set design is simply put, impeccable. As far as the actors are concerned, Mark Ruffalo deserves all the praise – he transfigures himself and becomes this middle-aged man desperately trying to find a solution for something that he knows is a matter of life or death. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance ends up feeling a bit wooden – he gives a feeling of uneasiness all throughout the film and only when the character takes center stage does he have a chance to stretch out a bit more. Robert Downey Jr. and all the incredible cast turn out really impeccable work (Brian Cox is wonderful as always).
All and all, this is a stunning film proving that David Fincher’s work continues to impress and dazzle. Let’s see what “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” will bring.