Moody and dark, but with flashes of humour when required, this film really exemplifies how to carry a plot. Gyllenhaal shines, as does Ruffalo, with Downey Jr coming in a close third for the best performance, they all just work so well together, showing the real frustrations of tracking a serial killer.
Great suspenseful watch, highly recommended.
Watched on the airplane coming back from Moncton (before connection in Montreal) after my cousin Beth's wedding, September 13, 2017
Hyper-focused and unrelentingly intriguing, Zodiac is one of Fincher's most impressive films all while being one of his most haunting.
The core of the film is built around three characters: Paul Avery, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and most notorious pursuer of the Zodiac, Dave Toschi, the SF detective assigned to the case, and Robert Graysmith, Avery's co-worker and eventual publisher of a book on the Zodiac. The most obvious thing to note about this list is that none of them are victims, or friends of victims, or pursued by the killer. This film is about the chase; about good investigation pursued thoroughly. We do get some very accurate recreations of the Zodiac's crimes, told from the POV of the victims, but these are there to provide clues and motivate our heroes. And that's what really sells the film for me. There's no chases through dark alleys, no captures and daring escapes, no targeting of the heroes' wives and families, and, while we do get plenty of taunting calls and letters, this doesn't lead to a grand climax where heroes and villain meet and confront each other. The film is also a lesson in disappointment and failure.
These characters are there because they're at the heart of the investigation and can serve as exposition dumps, but the film somehow manages to give them all strong characterizations as well. Graysmith is a naive but obsessive boy scout, Avery is an arrogant and drugged out dilettante, and Toschi is a no-nonsense professional with a love of animal crackers and a no-drama attitude. And they all get copious amounts of character development amidst all the plot. I'm astounded at how well they manage to mix drama with character. It helps that most of our scenes are only a minute or two long. Watching how every scene reveals not only some new development in the case but also something about the characters I find myself in awe of Fincher's work. Graysmith meeting his wife while worrying over Avery's new source for example, or exposition dumping on Avery as he's trying vainly to wake and sober up after a night out in his back seat. Each of these scenes could have done one thing and well, but instead it manages to tell two stories simultaneously. A masterpiece.
This film is staged like a nonfiction book. The facts are presented to you and the viewer has to find a way to process them and judge the relative reliability of contrasting sources. The result is a feeling of insecurity and doubt. The Zodiac killer has escaped justice, and as the film goes on it gets more and more remote. By the end you're jumping entire years to get just a trickle of new information. It's a brilliant display of failure and of real life. The ending is not a conventional one by any means. It is dissatisfying, but dissatisfying in a way that haunts you rather than leaves you upset. You feel like there should have been some sort of resolution. Like such horrors cannot go eternally unpunished. That justice does exist. And you're given the mild panacea of Graysmith's personal satisfaction that he has identified the killer. But that's it. And that uncomfortable truth is what really sets this film apart from the competition.
This film manages to juggle numerous themes and goals in the air simultaneously and somehow have them all function. It works as a character piece, studying three flawed leads in the orbit of an all-encompassing and never seen forceful personality. It works as a period piece, evoking a sense of time and place in a way that feels real but also recognizes changes. It works as a mystery, with new clues constantly building on old ones in pursuit of a killer. It works as a horror film, with some terrifying sequences where the killer does his thing in a very calm and precise manner. All these different genres and styles exist together, and feed off each other in a very fruitful way. It's sublime.
(Full review TBD)
As you might have guessed based off of the title, Zodiac, the movie is all about the Zodiac killer, and the people who try to figure out the identity of the killer. I won't go too deep into spoilers, but if you were alive when the Zodiac killer was actually active or if you have read the book, you'll know at least some of the story. Essentially, there's a serial killer on the loose in California and he likes to taunt the press/police after he successfully commits a murder. The movie follows the detectives, a journalist, and a cartoonist as they try to figure out who the killer is. I wasn't alive during that time, and I never read the book or do any research on the subject. So this was a whole new story to me, and I feel like I benefited because of that. The entire time I was trying to figure out who the killer actually was. The director does try to throw a few curveballs at the audience, but I feel like they were almost unnecessary and actually hindered my final assessment of the film. Not that throwing curve balls at the audience is necessarily a bad thing, but the twists just weren't executed all that well.
Anyway, the story kept me enthralled from start to finish. I was completely invested in the investigation by about the half-way point. I didn't look at how much longer was left in the movie once, and I even put off going to the bathroom because I did not want to pause the movie. That's how into it I was. One challenge that Fincher really overcame was the timeline. This movie spans a lot of years. And sometimes that can harm a film dearly. Jumping weeks, months, years at a time can sometimes kill a film's momentum, and lose the audience in the process. But this movie doesn't do that. It can jump weeks or months and you'll hardly even notice. It never loses momentum and it never becomes a drag.
Overall, the story of Zodiac is incredibly gripping and well done. Fincher does a great job of making a "cold case" into a movie that actually has a resolution that is satisfying, and he is able to make even the boring stuff seem interesting.
Almost all of the characters in Zodiac are great. They're engaging, unique, and have great arcs. But Paul Avery, who is portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., is the weakest character of the entire film. I get that Fincher was a bit hogtied when it came to each character's arc, but man what a waste of Robert Downey Jr. His character has a pretty small role in the film in the grand scheme of things and doesn't actually add a whole lot to it. He drinks, he smokes, and he helps the case along a little but for the most part he's just there. And it gets to a point in the film where he's completely unnecessary, but they give him a few scenes anyway. I mean, Zodiac is a long film, so cutting out these excess scenes with his character would have trimmed at least a few minutes off of the 2 hour and 37 minute run time. But it is Robert Downey Jr. so I guess they didn't want to cut any of his scenes. Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that Paul Avery doesn't hinder the film or impact it in a negative way. He just doesn't add a whole lot to it and overall seems unnecessary. The rest of the characters are great, though.
Zodiac is a mature film. The first half of the movie contains quite a few murder scenes, and I would say that no one under the age of 16 or 17 should watch it. Heck, some people well into their 40s may find some of the scenes in this movie disturbing. It all depends on how much ultra-realistic violence actually impacts you. If you like crime, drama, or thriller movies you'll definitely have a good time with Zodiac. Just don't let your young child watch it.
Zodiac is a great film. The story is a quite the ride and the characters keep you engaged. The film does run a bit long, but because the story is so fascinating I doubt you'll even notice how long it truly is. If you have Netflix, go watch it as soon as you can. If you don't have Netflix, go rent it for a couple of bucks-it's worth it.