Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: David Fincher
Story: Based on the Robert Graysmith books about the real life notorious
Zodiac, a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco with a string of seemingly
random murders during the 1960s and 1970s.
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 story lines, 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
Runtime: 158 minutes
Online since: February 20th, 2006