Directed by David Fincher
Written by James Vanderbilt, based on the book by Robert Graysmith
Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmit
Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi
Anthony Edwards as Inspector William Armstrong
Robert Downy Jr. as Paul Avery
Brian Cox as Melvin Belli
John Carroll Lynch as Arthur Leigh Allen
Chloë Sevigny as Melanie
Elias Koteas as Sgt. Jack Mulanax
Dermot Mulroney as Captain Marty Lee
Ed Setrakian as Al Hyman
John Getz as Templeton Peck
John Terry as Charles Theiriot
Candy Clark as Carol Fisher
Donal Logue as Ken Narlow
158 Minutes(Rated R for some strong killings, language, drug material and brief sexual images.)
"Zodiac" marks the terrific return of David Fincher, who I have had time to catch up on recently. Fincher could be considered the master of the psychological thriller, or just the police crime drama in general, or even the thriller itself. With the clever "Seven" under his belt, and the rather intense "Panic Room," I was glad to see that he was taking a stab at the crime story again, and "Zodiac" is the perfect film to return to. Four years is a long time, Fincher, and I hope that it's not another four years until you make the next one. First thing's first-what a great cast he has assembled. I'll start with the obvious-lately any role that Robert Downy Jr. does he turns to gold. He always plays the same type of character-that witty role chocked full of one liners and paranoia. He impressed me in "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," and sealed the deal with an Oscar worthy role in "A Scanner Darkly," and it still continues. Had "Zodiac" been released last November, his name would have been among the other Oscar nominees. And then there's Mark Ruffalo who I have always enjoyed watching in the past. I guess the name I was most hesitant about was Jake Gyllenhaal who never exactly impressed me, and I certainly did find "Brokeback Mountain" just the slightest bit overrated. But this is the role that has somewhat hooked me on-I am a little interested in seeing what he'll do next, and that is a compliment.
"Zodiac" doesn't exactly have one single main character that it follows, but for all intense purposes I'll make it Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for a local newspaper that has just gotten a strange letter. Written with many mispellings, the letter claims to be from the Zodiac killer, and has details pertaining to many of the recent brutal murders in San Fransisco. Robert can't help but get involved with he learns that the killer also sent a piece of paper covered in a secret code writing. Always having a fondness for puzzles, the single father Robert gets himself involved in the case. The killer demanded that his letter and code be put in the newspaper, or he will go on a killing spree. And Robert works with top journalist Paul Avery to get down to the bottom of the Zodiac killer. And the same goes for inspectors David Toschi and William Armstrong who slowly become obsessed with the killer. It's an interesting case too-not many murders occur, always a letter every few months, and no real pattern to speak of. And over the next thirty years the case will end becoming every ones undoing. And Robert, the only one of them who should have no real doings in the case from the beginning, ends up discovering everything out when he decides to write a book about the killer-much to the dismay of his lovely new wife Melanie, who feels that Robert is not only putting himself at risk, but also the lives of her and his new son.
I suppose it's in the first few minutes that "Zodiac" really hooks you. The opening scene is a murder, and the second murder that the "Zodiac" has committed. There is something about the style here-the camera angles, the tension, the mysterious aura, and the fact that Fincher ends up making it almost comical by putting a rather light song on the radio. Ever since "Reservior Dogs'" famous "Stuck in the Middle With You" torture scene, background music has never quite been the same for intense sequences, and "Zodiac" does something a little similar with it. And from there the audience becomes as obsessed and intrigued with the case as much as the characters do. It's a terrific police procedural, following clues, suspects, and never getting the chance to become dull. In the entire two hour and forty minute running time I was only curious about the time once, and that was mainly because sitting in the front row began to take it's toll on my poor neck. I suppose that the relationship subplot between Robert and Melanie was a little unnecessary. The script doesn't exactly establish Robert as the main character until about halfway through. The opening credit sequence hints at it, but then we drift from Avery to the police officers and onward that it doesn't feel like he is the main character. By the time it is established that he is our hero, the script also has to have him get married and than include the nagging and neglected wife. The only problem is that we never see Robert and Melanie fall in love-just a first date and than a tag line that says three years later. Perhaps if there was more on that relationship, their scenes together would have felt justified, but instead they felt kind of tacked on. I seriously would not have minded ten or fifteen more minutes to define that relationship more, especially if it would become imperative to the plot.
At the time of this writing, "Zodiac" is easily one of the best films of the year, even though it is only March. I do not know if that statement will hold over until this December, but if the year ended now this would be at the top. I finally have something to recommend to people when they ask me what movie they should see. I just kept saying all the films from the end of last year-"Children of Men," "Notes on a Scandal," and "Pan's Labyrinth' kept coming to mind. But I could put those to rest and say "Zodiac." It is a lavish production-intense, witty, consistently entertaining. It might not be as clever as "Seven," or as gripping as "Panic Room," but it manages to find cleverness and intensity in a different way-more through dialogue and conversations as opposed to action or visuals. I truly enjoyed watching "Zodiac" and it is the only necessary thing to see in theatres at the moment. David Fincher, come back soon.