Director    David Fincher
Starring    Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny
Release    March 2nd (US) May 18th (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


22nd May 2007

This latest effort from director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) is an intensely detailed, powerfully thrilling look into the nature of obsession and the power of fear; a throwback of sorts to the type of films made during the very era it depicts. The film is razor sharp and wholly engaging, filled to the brim with fantastic performances from an excellent and varied cast, and the theme of obsession is nicely reflected in the attention to detail that was paid in recreating the time period.

While the subject matter - the fanatical search for a serial killer - is rather dour, this does not prevent the film from having a sense of humor and playfulness, embodied mainly in the fantastic performance of Robert Downey, Jr. This humor never feels forced or out of place, as it is expertly applied throughout the film as a way of relieving the gripping tension that is almost continuously ratcheted up, even when the film is depicting something as mundane as two men sitting at their desks, trying to crack the code within which the Zodiac Killer buries his threats. The film is absolutely refreshing in that it's the rare big-budget Hollywood film that is made for adults, and it's no coincidence that it is being hailed as Fincher's most mature work; a sentiment that is very difficult to dispute.

Based on true events, the film begins in the summer of 1969 and focuses on Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. During the fantastic credits sequence, a letter addressed to the editor of the Chronicle makes its way from the mail carrier's van all the way up to the editorial office of the paper, where it eventually lands in the possession of eccentric star reporter, Paul Avery (Downey, Jr.). The letter is from someone who claims to have already murdered four people, and promises that several more will die in the coming months. More letters follow, and Inspector David Toschi (Ruffalo) of the San Francisco Police Department is assigned to head up the search for the murderer who comes to be known as the Zodiac, so-named for the cryptic symbol used to sign the letters. Over the next several years, Toschi, Avery, and Graysmith obsessively search for the killer, destroying their lives, careers, and personal relationships in the process.

Zodiac is a fantastically entertaining and thoroughly engrossing film, one that manages to engage the audience on both an emotional and intellectual level. The film is masterfully directed, and it really shows. While Fincher does eschew some of his signature flair, there are still some amazing sequences on display throughout, such as the overhead camera shot that follows a taxi cabas it makes its way from a movie theatre, around a corner, and down the block. Unlike the immediate, in-your-face style of Fight Club and the Grand Guignol style of Seven, the direction this time around is thrilling in a more subtle way. Zodiac is a slow burn and it really manages to draw the viewer deeper and deeper into the film as it slowly and confidently ambles its way toward the climax.

The film is long, but it moves at a good clip, and never manages to drag or feel boring. Except for an exhilarating and kinetic time-lapse sequence showing the construction of the Transamerica building, the passage of time in the film is chronicled by the dates being displayed at the bottom of the screen throughout the film, with mere weeks passing at first, then months, and then suddenly the words "Four years later" pop up on screen. It's a supremely jarring moment, especially for those who are not familiar with the case, and it is at that moment that the futility of the trying to solve it is put into stark relief.

It doesn't hurt that the film is filled with compelling actors, almost all of whom deliver top-notch performances. Several great character actors are given their moment in the sun in this film, and even small roles are portrayed by the likes of Brian Cox, James Legros, Elias Koteas, and Donal Logue. Even Charles Fleisher (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) delivers a chilling and riveting performance late in the film as a possible suspect. As always, RDJ can be relied on for a warm and humorous performance, but it is Mark Ruffalo who is the standout here. His David Toschi is a fully realised and wholly enthralling character, from his understated relationship to his partner (played by ER's Anthony Edwards), right down to his bizarre obsession with animal crackers. The one weak link is Gyllenhaal. He is simply too young for his role, and he is not able to effectively convey the range of emotions that are required of him. As a result, the film suffers somewhat in the third act, as it rests almost entirely on his shoulders.

Unfortunately, Zodiac is a film that won't connect with every viewer. The lengthy run-time and seeming lack of resolution will cause the less attentive to balk, but anyone looking for a smart, witty, and entertaining thriller made with adults in mind will not be disappointed.

More:  Thriller  Drama  Slasher
Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This