Zodiac (R)

Suspense/Thriller 160 March 2, 2007
By Scott Foundas
David Fincher's film version of the Robert Graysmith book about the eponymous San Francisco serial killer may disappoint those expecting a dark, brooding chiller on the order of Fincher’s Seven. For what interests Fincher most is not the hooded madman with the crosshairs logo, but rather the cops and reporters who doggedly pursued him, and who allowed the case to take control of (and, in some cases, to destroy) their lives. His Zodiac is a study of obsession made with an obsessive’s eye for detail. It’s about the passage of time and the accumulation of massive amounts of information--a movie that seems to be unfolding inside a cramped storage locker. And it’s exhilarating to behold. Like the book, Zodiac hopscotches between the killings themselves, the investigation led by detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), and the parallel inquiries being made by disheveled San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and the rookie cartoonist Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). The Zodiac christens himself with his astrological moniker, threatens attacks against schoolchildren if his letters and encrypted ciphers aren’t printed in the pages of the Chronicle, and, in one particularly absurd moment, demands an audience with famed litigator Melvin Belli (a gloriously hammy Brian Cox) on a local TV talk show. Yet as the body count increases and the Bay Area trembles in fear, Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt show us that it wasn’t only the Zodiac who benefited from the ensuing media frenzy. Indeed, Avery, Graysmith, and Toschi also know that they’re in the spotlight and that this is a chance to transcend the routine of their everyday lives. Welcome to the cult of the celebrity serial killer. At nearly three hours, and without a single hobbit in the cast, Zodiac is the sort of vast, richly involving pop epic that Hollywood by and large seems incapable of making anymore, so it’s little surprise that Fincher’s influences derive from an earlier era of American film--the New American Cinema of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and specifically the pared-down, fact-based procedurals of filmmakers such as Alan J. Pakula and Sidney Lumet. It may also be Fincher’s most personal work to date, in that, like the men on the trail of the Zodiac killer, the director is said to be a workaholic who will stop at nothing until he has achieved his goal. As the film sprawls into the ’80s and ’90s with the case still unsolved, lives descend into drunken despair, careers are ruined, and marriages fall apart. The result is a nearly perfect movie about the perils of perfectionism. (Scott Foundas)
David Fincher Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue,, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith Ceán Chaffin, Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, James Vanderbilt Paramount Pictures

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