Film Review – Zodiac

I have to tell you, it has been ages since I have been in a movie theater. With Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, there’s really been no reason to go and pay $40 (yes $40 when you include the popcorn, soda, etc) to watch a movie. Here I’ll review one of my all-time favorite films in the thriller genre –

Zodiac – a David Fincher Film

“Zodiac” is a film from David Fincher whose movies so far (with the depressing exception of “Alien 3”) have been great examples of brilliant filmmaking. David definitely has a style all his own. I went to see it at the Cinemrama dome in Hollywood, as it seemed the perfect place to view Fincher’s latest work. They were supposed to be showing it in digital, but the usher who came out said there were some technical problems and that they were showing it in the 35mm format instead.

There was also some girl who came up and was assigned to sit next to me, but she got all pissy because she was expecting an aisle seat and found that she was not assigned one. She got all pissy about that and ended up walking away. Bitch. Anyway, back to the movie.

Here’s the trailer:

The movie was inspired by Robert Graysmith’s book on the Zodiac killings that took place in Northern California back in the 1970s, and how it became an obesession and a burden for two homicide cops and two newspaper employees of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Zodiac was never officially caught, and as time went on, it became unclear as to which crimes he truly committed.

Whoever the Zodiac really was, he was a great PR person who contacted the police station just about everytime he (or she, if at all possible) commited a murder(s). The Zodiac would make sure to mention all the specific details of the crime so that there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was him (or her) who commited the deed(s).

The primary characters of this story are two homicide detectives from San Francisco played by the always excellent Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards (we miss you Dr. Greene), and Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal who play employees of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The movie observes them over a number of years as they work and become completely obessesed by the case and in finding out who the Zodiac really is (sounds kind of Scooby Doo-ish).

I kept thinking of Spike Lee’s “Summer Of Sam” movie while watching this. Spike’s movie was about the terror of Sam Berkowitz’s killings that engulfed a large section of New York and how it affected them.

In “Zodiac,” we see how these individual lives get wrapped up in the pursuit of a bad guy, and how fruitless and damaging it all becomes for them. Jake Gyllenhal’s character especially gets caught up in this in the last half of the movie as his feverish pursuit of a killer he feels no one cares about catching anymore takes over his life to the point where he loses his family. It is no longer a pursuit of justice as much as it is a case in obesession.

We all want to see the bad guy get caught, but at one point should you put the issue to rest before it consumes your whole life to the point to where nothing else seems to matter?

Another thing that this movie reminded me of was an episode of “Homicide – Life On The Street” where Detective Kay Howard, who has a 100% clearance rate as a homicide detective, ends up getting saddled with a case that is deemed unsolvable.

Her ego takes a hit as she desperately tries to prove that the case can be closed, but soon finds out that even though a good detective will never give up on a case, there comes a time when the detective must move along.

The characters in “Zodiac” want to move on from this, but they cannot and the case lingers on for years and years. There is a great scene where we see a fast motion shot of the Transamerica building being built and seeing it quickly ascending to the sky above as it is finally finished. Suffice to say, the building took more than a couple of months.

People keep saying that “Zodiac” is a return for David Fincher to the serial killer genre that he left such a graphically memorable mark on with “Seven.” But aside from that, “Zodiac” and “Seven” are very different movies. This is more of a procedural movie than a full out action movie. There are some graphic moments, but nothing quite as gruesome as what was in “Seven.”

I think critics are right in saying that this movie is more along the lines over “All The President’s Men” in the way it documents what happens. It is hard to make a movie like that interesting and utterly involving for a running length of almost 3 hours. But Fincher manages to pull it off by going outside of using style to a certain extent.

Fincher’s movies are usually consumed by style over anything else, but with this movie, he goes outside of his signature style to a certain extent and let’s the characters drive the movie for the most part. He gets away with it because he has a cast of excellent actors that are up to the challenge.

The first one I have to mention is Robert Downey Jr. who is so original and brilliant in what he does. He delivers a line like he is a jazz musician, constantly playing with his lines in his delivery of them.

He continues to prove he is one of the best and most original actors out there in his portrayal of Paul Avery, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle who ends up with his life destroyed when he is threatened by the Zodiac by getting a letter from him with a bloody piece of clothing in it. He is so much fun to watch in this and in just about anything else.

Mark Ruffalo is one of the more underrated actors out there, and he is great as a detective whose career is almost ruined by this case. After awhile, he is trying to move on with his life after he feels that he has examined just about every piece of evidence this case has to offer him. But he somehow gets pulled back into it even when he doesn’t want to be.

He plays the character as someone who is not mean but exasperrated by a killer who will not leave him be. Why should the killer leave him alone anyway? It’s not like he is leaving anyone else alone. His crimes have a control over the public that cannot ignore.

Crime sells whether we want to admit that or not. We of course want to see the bad guy get caught, but we are endlessly fascinated with the villain and the hold he has over everybody. As much as we are made to believe that the villain must be caught (and they should be caught if the world was a completely fair place), we cannot help but get a kick out of how the villain gets away with certain things.

There is no such thing as a perfect crime, but the Zodiac makes you believe it could be possible. There is something that is irresistable about that, maybe because the line between the good guys and the bad guys gets completely blurred sometimes.

Jake Gyllenhal is also very good as a newspaper cartoonist who ends up getting completely obessesed over discovering the identity of the Zodiac to where he does not think of anything else. Even his wife and family become secondary, and while you may want to see Jake get the bad guy, you see the shame of him neglecting everything else for the sake of justice, or of looking the killer in the eyes.

I do have to say at the same time that I don’t quite believe Jake as the father of 3 kids. He is still too young to be that kind of person, as is the always interesting Chloe Sevingy who plays his second wife. It’s great to see Chloe in this movie, even if her part is not all that big.

Also in this movie are Anthony Edwards who plays Mark Ruffalo’s partner, and who knows where to stop when the case becomes too much for him. There is also Dermot Mulroney who plays the boss to Mark and Anthony’s characters, and Brian Cox who plays a TV interviewer who is contacted by the Zodiac, or by someone who claims to be the Zodiac. Brian is always good in anything he does. There is no role that is too small for him. Ever.

This movie runs 2 hours and 40 minutes, and being the procedural movie that it is, it does drag a little here and there. But not enough to where I had to keep checking my watch. When I start checking my watch during a movie, I know I’m screwed. So far though, this is one of the best movies of 2007, and it serves a great example of how you make a movie. And that’s even though we are quickly coming up on the summer movie season where films will be very entertaining if not very good (Michael Bay, I am being very generous to you here!).

Excellent movie – worth checking out for it’s quality video production! Protection Status