Sunday, March 4, 2007

Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher's Zodiac in an engrossing look at the investigation into the yet unsolved Zodiac murders that occurred during the 1960's and 1970's in the Bay Area. The Zodiac killings are infamous even to this day. The Zodiac terrorized San Francisco and its neighboring communities with his random attacks, which had no clear pattern. He maddened the police force with his cryptic messages and illusive manner. To this day, authorities aren't even sure how many people he killed.

In the late '60s, the San Francisco Chronicle begins receiving letters containing cryptic ciphers by a man who claims to have murdered several people. He includes details in the letters that only the killer and police would know and prefers to be called "Zodiac." Boozing, pill-popping, coke-snorting yet charismatic crime journalist Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) begins to follow the case with the help of the Chronicle's cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has an affinity for solving the Zodiac's ciphers. Meanwhile, San Francisco Police investigators David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are assigned the case and begin to try and track the killer down. With multiple murder locations, different weapons used and no clear pattern to the Zodiac's targets, the case drags on for years, all the while the Zodiac taunts both police and reporters with letters and phone calls. The case takes a toll on each of the men as their lives are destroyed by their deepening obsession over the case while the Zodiac remains on the loose.

David Fincher has created a wonderful fact-based film that kept me entertained throughout its 150+ minute running time. With Fincher's sure-fire direction, 1970's San Francisco came alive. The atmosphere of the film was spot-on, drawing the viewer deeper and deeper into the film. It really felt like I was alongside Graysmith as the case takes over his life.

The cast did an amazing job in each of their roles. Robert Downey, Jr. was a joy to watch as the quirky reporter Avery as was Gyllenhaal as the timid yet determined Graysmith, whose Zodiac books this film is based on. The rest of the cast was astounding, with many familiar faces playing small and not so small parts, which included: Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Donal Logue, Adam Goldberg and Clea DuVall.

With so many facts to cover, the script was handled brilliantly by James Vanderbilt. It moves between different storylines, yet manages to fuse them all together at the same time without having to succumb to sensationalism or fiction to make it all work. It instead focuses on the facts of the Zodiac killings, recreating the time and place where the action occurred. It also uses humor wisely to break up the dramatic tension of the film. There are many funny parts that had me laughing out loud, usually involving Downey's character.

I wouldn't classify Zodiac as a horror film, but that shouldn't stop you from watching it. There are some very unsettling moments in the film (check out the basement scene involving Gyllenhaal's character), not to mention it's about an infamous unsolved serial killer case. It is not, however, like Fincher's Seven or Fight Club films. Forget about grisly scenes (though I did flinch at some of the Zodiac's killings portrayed on screen) or nihilistic, violent philosophies because Zodiac features neither. Instead, it's a pretty straightforward crime thriller that actually manages to thrill!

Available on Amazon!

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