REVIEW: Zodiac

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 it’s redeeming qualities, none have captured the mystique and obsession that survives with the still-open case as well as Fincher’s Zodiac. Also, none have portrayed the events nearly as accurately. The film uses Robert Graysmith’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.’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 film’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 Ruffalo’s section; his 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 Fincher’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 café in the early morning to be as satisfying of a conclusion as I have ever seen. That shortly followed by Graysmith’s fulfilling of his self-proclaimed desire to, “look him in the eye and know that he did it,” in the hardware store is a perfect way to cap off the film. My biggest qualm with the film is in the final scene. The Airport interview is tacked on and done without any of the three major players, it just doesn’t add much. That said, the scene doesn’t detract from the film either.

Zodiac is one 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 Fincher’s finest achievement. This year we get The Social Network, Fincher’s second take on a historical story, if it is anything like Zodiac, we’re in for something incredible.

Also, check out this website that compares actors to their biopic counterparts, here is the Zodiac page.

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  • I watched this on Halloween night thinking that it was going to be a horror movie. It should have replaced Juno for a Best Picture nomination that year.

  • Jose

    This review makes me regret even more how I have yet to see this film.

  • Quinn

    @ Brandon – I haven’t seen “Zodiac” yet, but NOTHING that came out in 2007 was better than “Juno”.

  • Jose

    Really Quinn, not even:

    There Will Be Blood
    No Country For Old Men
    The Simpsons Movie
    Lars and the Real Girl
    and Into the Wild?

  • Quinn

    Nope not any of those, though “Once” and “There Will Be Blood” come close.

  • Jose

    I can understand you, all of those films plus “Juno” were tied as my favorite film as 2007.

  • I’ve been meaning to catch “Zodiac”, but I doubt it’ll top “Once”. I love that movie.

  • Top Ten Films of 2007
    1. No Country for Old Men
    2. There Will Be Blood
    3. Michael Clayton
    4. Zodiac
    5. The Bourne Ultimatum
    6. Atonement
    7. Juno
    8. Gone Baby Gone
    9. Knocked Up
    10. Ocean’s Thirteen

  • Since we are evidently discussing the year 2007, I’m surprised no one has mentioned The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. In case you can’t tell Zodiac was easily my number 1 of the year.

  • I’m surprised no one mentioned ‘Assassination of Jesse James’ as well. Also, ‘Juno’ was the most overrated film of 2007. Just saying.

  • Quinn

    Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no. “Juno” was not the least bit overrated. My vote for most overrated movie of 2007 is “La Vie En Rose”. Also, I’m surprised no one has mentioned “Ratatouille” or “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

  • Jose

    “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” was also tied for my favorite film, but I forgot to put it on my list.

    Davin, like “Zodiac”, I have yet to see “The Assisination of Jesse James…” but I keep meaning to.

    And Alex, just saying, my vote for the most overrated film of ’07 was a tie between “Away From Her” and Ratatouille”

    Another favorite of mine from 2007 was “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”.

  • Quinn

    “Ratatouille” was not at all overrated, I love “Ratatouille”! “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” was good, but probably my least favorite out all the “Harry Potters”

  • @Alex, I think Juno is wonderful in it’s own right, and deserving purely for it’s cultural/historical importance as well as it’s light-hearted take on a serious issue. That said, I don’t love it as much as everyone else and I wish people went as crazy over Up In The Air, my favorite film of last year, as they did over Juno.

    Did any of you think Ratatouille lacked a strong enough antagonist? Similarly, it lacked any individual great character, it had no Wall-E, no Larry the Cable Guy, no Ellen Degenres. That said, I don’t think it was overrated, just not pixar’s best effort.

  • Quinn

    It wasn’t Pixar’s best movie, but one of their best. And it had a very strong antagonists, two actually. The head chef (i forget his name), and Anton Ego. Also, I also wish people went more crazy for “Up in the Air”, it was my second favorite last year to “UP”.

  • “La Vie En Rose” certainly was overrated, Quinn. Way more so than “Juno” (which I thought was rated just about right). 2007 was probably my favorite year in the last decade in terms of movies (though 2008 is right behind it).

  • @Davin Anton Ego is one of Pixar’s greatest characters. He’s a powerful antagonist who goes through a beautiful transformation punctuated with one of Peter O’Toole’s greatest speeches.

    ‘Juno’ felt like a film made by people who were completely detached from reality and it was world I had no desire to enter. It had its moments, such as Jennifer Garner’s character and Juno’s parents, but overall it was one of the least funny comedies I’ve seen.

  • Quinn

    2007 was my favorite too, in terms of movies, Then probably 2009 or 2004. 2006 was good too

  • Quinn

    @ Alex – UNFUNNY??????? That was one of the funniest movies I have ever seen!

  • @Alex I agree completely about Anton Ego, what I meant by a great character was a great comdedic character, such as Dory, or Mater, or Doug. Also, I don’t think he qualifies as an antagonist and the head chef I felt was not strong enough of an antagonist, but he was much better developed than the antagonist of Up.

    The seriousness of Juno was what I enjoyed most about it.

  • @Quinn – Not my type of humor. It tried way too hard.

  • The best year of the decade was definitely 2002. 2006 and 2007 are right behind it.

  • I agree with 07, i’d say 08 and 09 are pretty great personally, I don’t think many likes 06.

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