Director – David Fincher
Cast – Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloë Sevigny, Elias Koteas, John Getz
Release Year – 2007
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Chances are, if you are a fan of non-fiction crime stories then you know of the Zodiac Killer. This person plagued northern California sporadically from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, and was never caught – at least not for the crimes he was accused of. Because of its long runtime (2.6 hours) I never got around to viewing this film until recently. With David Fincher directing and Jake Glenhall, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo as the main protagonists I was pretty sure I would enjoy this, and I did. It’s a bit tame in comparison to films like Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs, but Zodiac is a good watch nonetheless.
The true story of San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who’s obsession with tracking the Zodiac killer brought police as close as they would get to nabbing one of history’s most elusive serial killers.
I would have never expected that the writer credited with adapting Robert Graysmith’s novel, James Vanderbilt, got his start co-writing the often laughed-at Darkness Falls. Vanderbilt has since found success after Zodiac, so don’t let the Darkness Falls credit fool you. When the Zodiac killer begins sending his cryptic messages to the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Graysmith can’t help but overhear the editorial staff freaking out over whether or not they should concede to the killer’s demands. Crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) are assigned to work the case by their superiors, but it is Graysmith who shows the most interest in who the killer is. His character is the most developed, as we watch the shy young man go to desperate lengths to catch a killer he is not paid to catch. He is not interested in award money, but is driven by the intellectual game of “catch me if you can”. The investigation is not without its tolls, as it has a negative effect on his relationship with his family (thought not so much), his cohorts (Avery), and the police force. Thankfully, this story does not dwell much on his troubles. Instead it keeps the viewer engaged by keeping us in the same boat of addicting confusing that Graysmith is in. By the time the second act rolls around you feel as if you are constantly on the brink of solving an immense crossword puzzle, and that is what I like about these types of serial killer films. Zodiac was heralded for its accuracy about the investigation, and that is the result of director David Fincher, writer James Vanderbilt, and producer Brad Fischer spending 18 months doing their research on the investigation.
As far as the horror goes it is most definitely there, but keep in mind that the horror is not the top element. The opening sequence helps set a horrific tone, and there are several other death scenes for the viewer to enjoy, but the story is mostly about the investigation. Since the film stays factual and the facts say that the Zodiac was rarely seen nor heard, the story does not involve him as much as the killers in other serial killer films. Instead, the story is told from the points of views of everyone on the opposite side of the spectrum, those hunting the killer, namely Robert Graysmith. Nonetheless, Vanderbilt found ways to insert tension here and there on Graysmith’s end, so don’t expect a snoozer.
David Fincher’s direction is great and he made this long experience one that flowed smoothly and kept my interest. His execution during the opening kill sequence is fantastic as he kept the tension at the utmost despite fairly simple writing. From then on out he delivers great atmosphere, good chills, and top-notch acting performances. Despite being filmed mostly in digital, Fincher managed to deliver atmosphere similar to that seen in the early 70s, but with an obviously crisper picture and lack of grain. I was impressed with his execution of the horror and felt that he made the most of these scattered sequences. He is obviously no stranger to horror after directing Alien 3 and the incredible Se7en, so going into this film I figured he’d get the job done. You should expect nothing less than the usual good performances from Gyllenhal, Downey Jr., and Raffalo, but also keep an eye out for genre vet Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, Anthony Edwards, and Chloe Sevigny.
Overall, Zodiac is another great film from David Fincher that does a good job at telling a factually based tale about one of America’s most famed serial killers.