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.
Verdict: Four stars out of Four (A)