A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: David Fincher, 2007, US, 158 mins
Cast: JAKE GYLLENHAAL, Mark Ruffalo, ROBERT DOWNEY Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox
Between 1968 and 1974 a man known only as The Zodiac killed at least five people in the San Francisco Bay Area and claimed responsibility for many more, but it wasn't only the murders which made this such a fascinating case, it was the perpetrator's gift for self-promotion. The Zodiac used the mass media to taunt his pursuers, sending cryptic letters to the San Francisco Chronicle with puzzles to decode and phrases like "schoolchildren make nice targets". His actions caused fear and panic to sweep the area and prompted a huge police investigation, but the real identity of this serial killer was never discovered.
David Fincher's magnificent Zodiac follows the investigation of three men who became deeply involved in this case; police officer Dave Toschi (Ruffalo), and San Francisco Chronicle employees Paul Avery (Downey Jr.) and Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal). Graysmith was a cartoonist, whose interest in The Zodiac grew into an all-consuming obsession, resulting in two books which have formed the basis for James Vanderbilt's intelligent screenplay. Zodiac is a daringly structured film, front-loading the killings into the first third of the picture and allowing the fruitless investigation to play out over the subsequent two hours, an approach which proves to be utterly engrossing.
Vanderbilt's screenplay is tightly packed with information and it can feel a little congested in places, but for the most part, it's admirably clear and beautifully paced. Fincher's direction is uncharacteristically restrained here - there's none of the camera-through-the-keyhole nonsense of Panic Room (2002) - and the film is all the better for it. He shoots the action in a simple and classy fashion, and he gives his actors plenty of room to deliver perfectly pitched performances, with Ruffalo and Downey Jr. the pick of a exceptional cast. Fincher can still deliver thrilling set-pieces though, and one of Zodiac's chief pleasures is the way the he makes potentially hackneyed scenes feel fresh, milking considerable tension out of the film without recourse to cheap tricks. The director's mastery of visual effects is also put to good use here with some fine CGI work being utilised to bring 70's San Francisco to life, and a breathtaking time-lapse sequence of the Transamerica Pyramid's construction is a particularly dazzling moment.
From the old-style Paramount logo which opens the film, every tiny detail in this marvellous picture feels just right. Zodiac is the best film about investigative journalism since All the President's Men (1976) and the best serial killer film since Memories of Murder (2003), both pictures with which it bears clear similarities. Many will argue that Zodiac could do with a touch of editing in its final third, when it really does start to feel like a 158 minute picture, but that's a minor quibble. This is a deeply impressive piece of filmmaking with a haunting power.