I missed this in the theatre and, sour-grapes-style, presumed it was some half-baked Seven retread. Sure, directed by David Fincher, but all those reliable names have let us down at one time or another. It was advertised exploitatively and then poof! Gone. So why did I see it now? Frankly, for OFCS voting. It was nominated a lot, so I felt obligated to see it. I am so very glad that I did! (Note to self: castigate Hollywood for continuing to release Full Screen DVDs!) Zodiac is the story of the man so obsessed with the real-life Zodiac serial killer that he basically ruined his own life trying to track down the killer when the authorities failed to. It’s the ultimate cold case, with tantalizing clues meted out judiciously by the smarter-than-thou killer. Zodiac terrorized northern California for years, vanishing and reappearing and knowing just enough about police methods to be all the more dangerous.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays the SF Chronicle cartoonist for whom the puzzle of the clues and murders was too compelling to put down. He plays Robert Graysmith with that kind of wild-eyed yet defeated fire that he specializes in. Surrounding him are Robert Downey Jr. as a jaded reporter, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards as detectives, and a slew of others. Everywhere is stonewalling, evidence hoarding, non-cooperation, irrational refusals of free help, and more information. Meanwhile, Zodiac is killing for sport and toying with his lackluster pursuers.
What makes this movie special is that really, not much happens. Don’t get me wrong – there are killings and conversations, fights and brainstorms. But our heroes are all in different ways mired down by their circumstances, the drudgery of investigation, the inertia of hopelessness, the finite reserves of anyone’s capacity to do anything with no measurable progress. It’s insanely gripping, even if someone is explaining discovery or flipping through a file. It’s tremendous how on-edge my companion and I were. Time flies by, either with a single caption or the time-lapse construction of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.
While Gyllenhaal’s tenacious boy scout circumvents the obstacles of the law in his private investigation, the killer kills. Each attack is oddly, even amusingly, like a million you’ve seen in a movie. The compulsion to shout at the soon-to-be-victim is nearly impossible to repress. “Don’t do THAT – haven’t you seen this movie 100 times before!” Of course they do, it’s awful because you know what’s going to happen from movie convention, but also even more awful because you know it really happened. When Michael Myers does it, it’s just scary. This is bone-chilling.
The technical aspects of the film are incredible. It’s taut, that’s the word, and it had us completely in the palm of its hand. Director David Fincher has had me there before (Seven, Panic Room, Fight Club) but this effectively? Possibly. I wish I could have seen it before I sent out my best of the year. Please see it.
MPAA Rating R-strong killings, language, drug material, brief sexual images
Release date 3/2/07
Time in minutes 158
Director David Fincher
Studio Warner Brothers