Robert Downey Jr.
John Carroll Lynch
Serial Killer Drama Thriller
Trivia The film was edited in Final Cut Pro
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28th Jul 07
Plot Fight Club director David Fincher takes an exacting and methodical look at the unsolved case of the killer known as Zodiac, whom may have been responsible for a number of murders that took place in San Francisco during the 1960's and 1970's.
Fincher’s movie concentrates on how the case affected those that were involved in trying to catch the bugger and comes up with its own thoroughly researched idea as to who the guy really was.
Anyone approaching this movie thinking that it will be similar to director Fincher’s earlier stab at the serial killer flick with the acclaimed Se7en better think again. This isn’t that type of movie. Go to watch it thinking it is and you’ll be very disappointed and indeed it’s probable that the American public did.
It’s not their fault; blame the advertising as the director did. Fincher felt that by saying Zodiac was from the maker of his earlier movie could well have been the reason Zodiac bombed at the North American box office grossing just $33million back from an estimated $80million budget and that’s despite an impressive stack of notices from the critics.
It’s not the first time the Zodiac killer has been tackled in film – from 1971’s The Zodiac Killer up to 2005’s very similarly entitled Zodiac Killer, which at best was muddled and frankly a bit of a mess, the anonymous killer has covered some celluloid mileage. Zodiac was also the loose inspiration for the bad guy ‘Scorpio’ in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (which get featured in Fincher’s movie) and Brad Dourif’s growling inmate ‘The Gemini Killer’ in the vastly under-rated The Exorcist III. Where Fincher’s movie differs is in that it concentrates more on the investigation to find the killer rather than be about the killer primarily.
Fincher and his team went to great lengths to ensure they got the facts straight in this version. The script is based on two non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith - Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America’s Most Elusive Serial Killer with additional material from Fincher’s investigation into the murders trying to pull out the facts from the fiction that had built up around the subject matter over the years.
This involved new interviews with the two surviving victims – Mike Mageau and Bryan Hartnell plus those involved in the investigations and family members of those people at one point considered to be the Zodiac.
Despite setting the tone with a creepy murder sequence in a lover's lane, the story’s direction is not about focusing too much on replaying the actual killings (as director Ulli Lommel’s 2005 movie did), instead tending to focus only on those where there was a survivor or a witness to substantiate what happened. When a slaying is shown on screen it is done so in a cold and exacting fashion rather than veer towards the sensationalistic.
Unlike Fincher’s previous big screen outings, Zodiac is determined not to be knowingly flashy, delivering instead a deliberate and methodical pace that may annoy some viewers as it did some of his cast. Taking an incredible 115 days to shoot his flick, Fincher stepped into the shoes vacated many moons ago by a similar perfectionist – a certain Mr. Kubrick – and regularly shot scenes seventy or more times to get precisely what he was looking for.
Such perfection comes at a cost as Zodiac sometimes feels too exact and precise. Yes it is staggeringly well made and most of the acting is spot on but throughout there is this sense that the director had his eye so trained on making sure that his finished product glistens, that beneath the sheen it feels like the movie has no heart. The long running time is not necessary and could have been told in two thirds of that time and still been as affective. So keen was Fincher to have control of his project that there is no one willing to rein him in when it goes over. On this occasion someone really should have.
Robert Downey Jr. steals every scene he is in as Paul Avery the reporter covering the murders at the San Francisco Chronicle looking to make a name for himself of the back of the case. Jake Gyllenhaal, last seen getting some serious man loving in Brokeback Mountain, delivers an unshowy performance as Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who has an eye to solving puzzles, who finds the Zodiac case taking over his life after everyone else involved in the case have lost interest or become burnt out by it. Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi turns in yet another solid performance proving that his worth is better suited to meatier fare as this rather than silly fluffy romantic comedies such as that dopey Reese Witherspoon number he cropped up in.
John Carroll Lynch as Arthur Leigh Allen exudes the right amount of creepiness as Zodiac suspect Number One if coming on a little TOO obvious. Fincher so desperately wants the viewer to believe that Leigh Allen is the Zodiac Killer, it kind of makes the introduction of any other suspects as the movie enters its final stretch a little redundant.
Far more effective though is the scene where Robert Graysmith talks with Charles (A Nightmare on Elm Street, the voice of Roger Rabbit) Fleischer’s Bob Vaughn in his basement, a scene that so creeps you out that it lingers with you long after the credits have rolled.