Continuing through the works of David Fincher, comes his only film to date based on actual events. Set in various parts of California, this serial killer story is one of the most breathtaking and intelligent crime sagas ever filmed. What is so fascinating about it is that it is so true to the events that it becomes a combination of gritty realism and neo-noir. This juxtaposition gives Fincher the freedom to be both explicit and restrained, a great strength of his, put to excellent use in this film. Just as with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the film turns off many viewers who find the conclusion to be less than satisfactory. But I disagree, and I encourage all who were initially underwhelmed to take another look at this cinematic masterpiece. The film of course is Zodiac.
Several films have been inspired by, if not explicitly based on the Zodiac murders that took place primarily in Vallejo, California. While the original, Dirty Harry, has itâ€™s redeeming qualities, none have captured the mystique and obsession that survives with the still-open case as well as Fincherâ€™s Zodiac. Also, none have portrayed the events nearly as accurately. The film uses Robert Graysmithâ€™s novel as its primary source. In its two and a half hour run time, Fincher crams each scene and even each shot, densely with information, facts, and evidence both circumstantial and otherwise. But never does the film fall into the realm of a CSI episode; it is always grounded in the human story at heart.
The story is less about the actual events, although they are all there in great detail. It is about the universal entrapment of obsession, and arguably, the good that can come of it. The story can be divided into three sections based on the three characters on which the film is focused. First is Robert Downey Jr.â€™s portrayal of Paul Avery. This is both my favorite performance of Downey Jr. and my favorite performance of the film. His dead-on, in-your-face smart-ass persona has never found a better match in my humble opinion. I also see this as one of the early films of his triumphant return. Avery is first introduced to the story first hand through his job at the Chronicle. However, as he becomes more involved his life and his career enter a downward spiral. The transitional sequence into the filmâ€™s second stage is the scene in which we see Downey Jr., drunk, beaten to the bone, asking to become the head of the case. This enters into Mark Ruffaloâ€™s section; hisÂ portrayal of Dave Toschi, who is assigned to the Zodiac case as a part of his career as well. But we quickly see that it becomes much more than that. His frustration at an early setback nearly closes the case and causes his long-term partner to back down. The third transition and my favorite individual shot of the film takes place at a showing of Dirty Harry, where Graysmith comments to Toschi that they will, indeed catch him. Graysmith stands just off center looking beyond the camera as hundreds of people, now exiting the theater walk by him. He is frozen in place. This is where Gyllenhaal takes over the film.
All three performances and all other performances are dead on. As is Fincherâ€™s directing and I would argue the editing. A lot of people complain that this film needed to be further cut, but I think all the transitions, montages, and even the pacing are pitch perfect. As is the dark green tone from the cinematography and brilliant soundtrack that perfectly captures and juxtaposes with the mood , jumping back and forth from timely rock songs to eerie noir compositions.
A common complaint about the film is that the ending is unsatisfying. That the killer turns out to be who we thought it was half way through the film, and nothing ever comes of the Marshall case. But, I disagree. I find the exchange of dialogue between Toschi and Graysmith at a cafÃ© in the early morning to be as satisfying of a conclusion as I have ever seen. That shortly followed by Graysmithâ€™s fulfilling of his self-proclaimed desire to, â€œlook him in the eye and know that he did it,â€ in the hardware store is a perfect way to cap off the film. My biggest qualm with the filmÂ is in the final scene. The Airport interview is tacked on and done without any of the three major players, it just doesnâ€™t add much. That said, the scene doesnâ€™t detract from the film either.
Zodiac is oneÂ of the strongest films to come by in at least a decade, one of the best serial killer movies ever made, and to date, David Fincherâ€™s finest achievement. This year we get The Social Network, Fincherâ€™s second take on a historical story, if it is anything like Zodiac, weâ€™re in for something incredible.
Also, check out this website that compares actors to their biopic counterparts, here is the Zodiac page.