Zodiac (2007) Dir David Fincher


Starring: Jake Ghyllenhal, Robert Downy Jnr, Mark Ruffalo

I suppose there were always going to be problems with a film about a serial killer who was never caught. At first, anyway, it seems like they might make the best of it – starting in the era of 1969, a vicious killer attacks lone couples, and begins to taunt police and the press with threats of worse to come. This psycho was a publicity-hound with a knack for cereal-box ciphers that captured the public’s imagination.

Reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jnr with Iron Man facial hair) & cartoonist-turned Zodiac investigator Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) at their San Francisco Chronicle office

William Armstong, Mark Ruffalo’s frustrated detective, tries to narrow down the huge list of suspects but the main focus is around Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He gets sucked into the mystery, obsessed with solving the ciphers and unravelling the clues to the killer’s identity. He goes so deeply it almost destroys him. Meanwhile, Paul Avery (Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jnr!), Robert’s friend and the Chronicle’s star reporter, seems to deliberately destroy himself in the years after he’d investigated the story. It’s only by the second hour that it all begins to lose its way.

A moment, please to appreciate Mark Ruffalo’s awesome hair plus bowtie, and the proof that he’s more than just a romantic comedy foil

The gradual unravelling of pace and the disappointing lack of genuine conclusion (although a very heavy speculation on who it COULD have been) unfortunately turned an intriguing thriller into an essay on endurance. By the end of this incredibly long piece of work by Fight Club, Alien 3 and S7n director David Fincher, I also felt as though I’d also been tracking down the sneaky Zodiac killer for almost 20 years. So at least it gives you further empathy with the very likeable lead actors! For what it’s worth, be warned – this is a looooooooong movie, which outstays its welcome by the time its timeline reaches 1982 and you realise it’s still got an hour to go.

Slightly gratuitous Jake Gyllenhaal picture, as the obsessed Robert Graysmith!

Fincher is obviously intrigued by the weird details of the Zodiac case – he’s crammed a vast amount into the plot. He seems to have been as obsessed as the characters in his search for the truth about this bizarre murderer and his media-hogging identity. It’s just a pity it couldn’t have been more tightly paced, maybe giving us a bigger thirst to learn more ourselves, and to read Graysmith’s 1986 ‘Zodiac’ book. Reality is a tricky thing to pin down on screen – we know there’s usually some dramatic licence involved. Zodiac points this out when the main investigators all end up watching the start of Dirty Harry (1971), which did little to disguise inspiration from the Zodiac killer. In fact they deal with Dirty Harry quite sniffily. This may explain why Zodiac has such a documentary feel, to set itself apart from more exploitative film versions of the case.

In truth, Dirty Harry is still a better picture, but as a study of how serial killers grab the public imagination Zodiac’s actually a very solid piece of work, despite its capacity to wallow. My only advice? Don’t start watching this at 11pm, you will be there ALL night. And basically, I didn’t hate it, I can grudgingly admire it, but I know there’s much better to come from a great talent like David Fincher.

Still, as with most real life serial killer movies (and not just the usual Texas Chainsaw ‘based on real events’ bullshit), there’s a creeping unease about exploitation of pain caused, and wondering if we’re just giving the serial killer the fame his perverse little ego always craved? The Zodiac mystery remains compelling, and has stayed alive through the increasing popularity of serial killers running amok in modern fiction -some making Zodiac himself look tame (just check out the Saw films!). Perhaps that’s the real truth of this film – and isn’t that far more disturbing?

A cute couple from 1969 disobey the first rule of Serial Killer movies, and also don’t drive fast enough away from a threatening black sedan…


One thought on “Zodiac (2007) Dir David Fincher

  1. Great review, as always!Zodiac is a movie a lot of people were eagerly awaiting, but as you point out, it only partially delivered on its promise.I think perhaps the problem was that Fincher tried to concentrate on too many concurrent storylines, thereby shortchanging them all. There were places in the movie where I felt like I’d been dropped into a scene and that SOMETHING had just happened, but I wasn’t sure exactly what or how it came about. This was particularly true in Dave Toschi’s storyline. If he’d just concentrated on two protagonists — Robert Graysmith/Paul Avery or Graysmith/Toschi — we wouldn’t have been missing so much out of each and they all would have had more impact.And then of course, as you say, the lack of a real ending didn’t help. I almost wanted Graysmith to get sued for persecuting the man he believed was the killer, just to give it some kind of concluding event. As it is, it’s a bit of a damp firework.

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