Director : David Fincher
Screenplay : James Vanderbilt (based on the book by Robert Graysmith)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector David Toschi), Anthony Edwards (Inspector William Armstrong), Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), John Carroll Lynch (Arthur Leigh Allen), Chloë Sevigny (Melanie), Elias Koteas (Sgt. Jack Mulanax), Dermot Mulroney (Captain Marty Lee), Philip Baker Hall (Sherwood Morril)
Despite being a return to the serial killer film, the genre that first earned him recognition with 1995's brilliantly disturbing Seven, in Zodiac director David Fincher dials down the stylistic amplitude that has characterized his previous films and in the process cements his status as a filmmaker of much greater range than many of his critics have given him credit for. Zodiac is a profoundly unconventional thriller of great emotional weight and social tension. It is a strict police procedural that is also a compelling and unnerving portrait of obsessive and self-destructive behavior in the mad rush for “truth.”
As Zodiac is based on the nonfiction books by newspaper cartoonist-turned-amateur investigator Robert Graysmith, the film does supply what appears to be an answer at the end--in essence arguing that a particular suspect named Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) was, in fact, the Zodiac, a never-captured serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area with a killing spree in 1969 and 1970 and then taunted the newspapers and police with cryptic letters for the next decade. Yet, the feeling you are left with as the final credits role is one of complete uncertainty, if only because the man fingered by Graysmith was never formerly charged and convicted. Thus, if Allen was indeed the Zodiac, he escaped paying for his crimes (he died of a heart attack in the 1990s); if he wasn't, then the Zodiac could still be alive and well.
The narrative in Zodiac is almost dangerously inclusive, spanning decades and spending significant time with a wide range of characters involved in the case. There are several potential suspects, and the film covers the most well known aspects of the case history, including the five killings officially attributed to the Zodiac (which Fincher depicts in appropriately gruesome fashion), the many letters he sent that often included cryptograms supposedly containing his identity, and a live on-television phone call with prominent lawyer Melvin Belli (Brian Cox) that turned out to be a hoax.
For all practical purposes, the story focuses on three main characters who, at one point or another, looked into the case. The official San Francisco police detective put in charge of the investigation was David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who was already famous for having been the inspiration for Steve McQueen's iconic character in Bullitt (1968). However, the case is also the focus of San Francisco Chronicle crime writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), an alcoholic cynic who seems to be constantly on the edge of breakdown. Unofficially, the case is closely monitored by Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who at the time was a political cartoonist for the Chronicle and is presented as Avery's polar opposite (at one point he is actually described as a “Boy Scout”).
Fincher presents the copious amounts of dense material that comprise the film's narrative in a decidedly straightforward fashion with only minimal stylistic flourishes (the first murder, for example, is depicted in highly stylized slow motion, whereas the brutal knifing of a young couple by Lake Berryessa is depicted in shocking real time). Much of the film is consumed with characters talking--often going over details of the case and discussing theories and motives--but Fincher is confident enough in the inherent intrigue generated by all this dialogue that he doesn't feel the need to dress it up in superfluous style.
Part of what keeps Zodiac so buoyant is the interactions of the characters themselves, for example, the amusing disparity between the cynical Avery and the idealistic Graysmith (the film's funniest visual gag involves Graysmith turning Avery on to an effete blue drink at a bar). Less successful is the depiction of Graysmith's crumbling marriage, which is central to the film's focus on obsessive behavior, but doesn't quite cohere because his wife Melanie (Chloë Sevigny) is given virtually no screen time; thus, she becomes little more than a cardboard symbol for Graysmith's sacrifices to solve the case (Fincher had to cut about half an hour from the film to appease the studios, and I wonder how much of that footage involved Melanie).
Zodiac is never anything less than completely enthralling, which may surprise those who realize that, after the hour mark, there will not be another murder committed by the Zodiac and there is still more than 90 minutes to go. The film it most closely resembles is Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) in that it wraps an absorbing mystery around an intensive history lesson that highlights the constructed nature of historiography by emphasizing how characters actively recreate history through dialogue and presentation. There is never a sense of absolute certainty even though characters pursue that ideal with dogged intensity (especially Graysmith), putting aside the rest of their lives in exchange for the chance--just the chance--to bring order to something that actively resists it.
|Zodiac is available in both widescreen and full-screen editions.|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||July 24, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD is, not surprisingly, rock solid. Like all of Fincher's previous films, Zodiac is quite dark, with many scenes taking place at night. Black levels are perfect, and shadow detail is excellent in even the darkest scenes. Colors throughout the film are accurately muted and subdued, which gives the film the look of something shot in the 1970s. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is also excellent. As the film is primarily dialogue-driven, a great deal of the soundtrack is centered on the front soundstage, although there is great use of the surround channels for ambient noise and to add shock to the sudden bursts of gunfire in the film. The soundtrack also does a nice job of opening up the film's numerous '60s and '70s tunes that Fincher uses to establish both the era and the tone of many scenes.|
|While there are no supplements on this disc to speak of--not even a theatrical trailer--there is a preview of the upcoming two-disc director's cut DVD (look for it in 2008), which boasts commentaries and in-depth supplements covering both the making of the film and the facts of the Zodiac case.|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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