THE STORY – In the late 1960s and 1970s, fear grips the city of San Francisco as a serial killer called Zodiac stalks its residents. Investigators (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards) and reporters (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.) become obsessed with learning the killer’s identity and bringing him to justice. Meanwhile, Zodiac claims victim after victim and taunts the authorities with cryptic messages, cyphers and menacing phone calls.
THE CAST – Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney & Chloe Sevigny
THE TEAM – David Fincher (Director) & James Vanderbilt
THE RUNNING TIME – 158 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
Those heading into “Zodiac” and expecting a serial killer film on the level of the director David Fincher’s previous work “Se7en” will be sorely disappointed at the lack of dark imagery, grizzly horror, and disturbing themes. Bottom line is that “Zodiac” is not a serial killer story. It’s about the hunt for the notorious serial killer and the process by which the police, the media and everyday common people got sucked into the mythology of this terrorizing figure in San Francisco during the 60s and 70s. David Fincher’s film is packed with information, dates, people, and events leading to one of the best journalistic films that matches any documentary you could possibly see on the subject of the Zodiac killer.
“Zodiac” is best on real events that took place in San Francisco during the late 19060’s and 70’s. During that time a serial killer held the bay area in his grasp as news about his grizzly murders found their way to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper team via personal handwritten letters from the killer himself. Police Investigators are assigned to the case (Mark Ruffalo & Anthony Edwards) while Chronicle reporters (Jake Gyllenhaal & Robert Downey Jr.) become fascinated with the case and decide to dig deeper into discovering the killer’s identity. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the killer spawns a slew of copycats and the case becomes more complex as the years move on without any major breaks in the case.
Fincher has always been known as a perfectionist within Hollywood and that continues in “Zodiac” as there is an enormous amount of camera setups, scenes and bits of dialogue that need room to breathe. Fincher draws “Zodiac” out to nearly three hours, allowing for not only the audience to digest the mammoth loads of facts about the case but also so that we may feel the frustration and struggle which David Toschi, Robert Graysmith, Paul Avery and countless others felt while trying to track the serial killer down. It’s a sprawling piece of work which is meticulously edited and captured on digital (A first for Fincher at the time) by the late great Harris Savides to great mundane (Lots of browns and yellows) effect.
The performances by the film’s leads are all pretty much solid. No one really stands out from the other as Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. each give their characters unique qualities so that we may find a way to relate to at least one of them in their pursuit of the Zodiac. Gyllenhaal has the boyish features required to play off the schoolboy nature of Graysmith but can remarkably morph that into crazed obsession as no one in the film becomes more consumed by the hunt for the killer than he does by the film’s end. Ruffalo presents an everyday cop who finds himself having to go through many roadblocks in trying to crack the case as he is hindered by the practices of his job. This is perfectly displayed when he feels he has the prime suspect (A wonderfully creepy John Carroll Lynch) and instead of being able to arrest him on the spot due to the amount of evidence, he must first get a warrant and obtain evidence that is not “circumstantial.” It goes to show you just how demanding and challenging the life of a homicide detective must really be. And finally, Downey Jr. (Pre Iron Man fame) brings his cockiness and arrogance which we have seen him display in other films before and we see how the case drives the good reporter to darker depths as the years weigh on him. Special mention should also be paid to the always forgotten Anthony Edwards who plays Toschi’s partner on the case, William Armstrong, as he too is solid. With Chloe Sevigny, Philip Baker Hall, Elias Koteas and Brian Cox rounding out the cast, this was definitely one of the best ensembles in 2007.
The Zodiac case has never been solved and still remains open. That lack of closure is something which many have complained about over the years when it comes to “Zodiac” as many felt cheated by Fincher’s exhaustive film when the final credits came on the screen. I disagree completely as I feel it’s a powerful note to end the film on and it can almost be considered inspiring in a way as I found myself more interested in the case than ever after watching Fincher’s film. It’s also more accessible than you may remember as there are moments of dry and dark humor throughout and some really terrific scenes (One such scene takes place in a basement and has still managed to scare me all these years later). While it may not be perfect as a perfectionist like Fincher wants it to be, “Zodiac” is still worth your time.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Fincher presents enough information to rival that of a documentary with solid performances from Gyllenhaal, Downey Jr. and Ruffalo.
THE BAD – The film’s length and unresolved nature may frustrate some.
THE OSCARS – None
THE FINAL SCORE – 8/10