|Genre(s): Crime / Drama / Mystery|
|Warner Brothers, Paramount || R - 158 minutes || March 2, 2007|
|Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2007-03-03|
Writer(s): Robert Graysmith (book), James Vanderbilt (screenplay)
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Donal Logue, Elias Koteas, Chloe Sevigne, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall, Clea DuVall
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“I’m not the Zodiac. Even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.”
These “based on actual facts” kind of movies I normally find troubling. How close to the “facts” do these movies come to and how much is manufactured in order to give the film more thrills or a more rounded story? From my reading around the Net (yeah, I know...), it seems this was very close to the book it’s based on (by the real Robert Graysmith), of course the book has it’s own problems, apparently.
Zodiac is David Fincher’s latest thriller and his first since 2002’s immensely entertaining Panic Room and a movie, if you watch the trailers, a bit misleading. Zodiac is less about the actual killings but instead the focus and true heart of the film centers on the men investigating the identity of the man calling himself the Zodiac killer.
The film spans three decades from the late 1960s to the early 90s where the Zodiac murders of several men and women caught the attention, followed by obsession, of investigators and reporters, with consequences in their personal lives. Homicide Inspectors David Toschi (Ruffalo; Collateral) and William Armstrong (Edwards; TV’s ER) and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Downey Jr.; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal; Jarhead) all become obsessed with capturing the Zodiac killer after he sends the paper coded messages for his crimes.
The primary focus is on Graysmith, the author of the book this film is based upon, an unassuming cartoonist for the Chronicle, who, after others have given up, uncovers more but at the risk of losing his own family be it catching the attention of the Zodiac or becoming so involved that he loses all sanity.
In some ways Zodiac is actually a surprising movie to see from someone like David Fincher, and not for the same reasons why Panic Room or Se7en were so damn great. No, Fincher sidelines in your face thrills and chills with a taut story delving into less about the killings and more on the possibility of who it is and those involved with the case. Moreover, for the most part, it certainly works. That said, I could think of several other directors who could’ve pulled off the same thing. Early in the movie, on the other hand, you can detect classic Fincher (and in turn Hitchcock) shots like opening the film from the viewpoint of a driver in his/her car driving along a suburban street. In keeping with the style of (primarily) the 70s, he does away with any elaborate shots and instead lets the story unfold without any gimmicks.
What Fincher does get right is bringing together a top-notch cast of talent. They may not be A-list stars, but through and through, these are actors who are perfect for each role. Jake Gyllenhaal as the obsessed Chronicles political cartoonist, Mark Ruffalo as the equally obsessed, frustrated homicide inspector, and the immensely entertaining Robert Downey Jr. as Graysmith’s Chronicle colleague all give depth to characters who, like in many Fincher-flicks, don’t get the appropriate amount of back-story.
This is not to ignore the supporting cast comprised of Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy), Chloe Sevigny (Shattered Glass), Philip Baker Hall (In Good Company) and Donal Logue (Ghost Rider) to name a few who round out an impressive cast contributing to the story.
When I first heard this was two and a half hours long, and for a thriller, that’s pretty damn long, I was concerned. However, because of some fine pacing -- despite the numerous fade out/ins, going from one time frame to another -- I did not once look at my watch. In fact, the time actually went quickly. And I think this is why Fincher, notwithstanding the lack of his usual style, was a good choice to direct. Just as Graysmith’s ultimate goal while hunting the Zodiac killer was to look him in the eyes, and we too want the same thing.
It’s not to say Zodiac isn’t a good movie, it is, but since this is a David Fincher flick, I had higher expectations. As it stands, it is an effective, though flawed, movie. The top notch cast and the compelling and taut story will makes this, even this early on, one of the better films of 2007.