If there’s one regret that I have last year, it’s that I didn’t get to see Zodiac in the theaters. Somehow I just never found the time. But this was one of the films that I was going to rush out and get on DVD as soon as it launched. (Thankfully I didn’t, as I’m hearing that the DVD is pretty much free of any bonus content). But after seeing this film, there’s little doubt that when the full-on release comes out, I’ll be right there in Best Buy waiting to pick it up.
Zodiac is directed by David Fincher (who’s also done such gems as Fight Club, Seven and The Game) and is a dramatization of the search for the identity of “The Zodiac Killer” who had the San Francisco area quivering with fear during the late 60s – mid 70’s. Having been born in the mid 70’s, I didn’t know much about the storied “Zodiac Killer” and almost confused him with “The Son of Sam” murders in New York City. Regardless of whether you know anything or nothing about the legend, if you’re a fan of the JFK-style storytelling (where pieces of the puzzle are revealed almost like a ride) then chances are you’ll love this film.
The acting in Zodiac is truly exceptional. Mark Ruffalo is quickly turning into one of my favorites. He always keeps me engaged and I’ve seen him in a variety of different roles. The role of detective suits him quite well here. Say what you will about Jake Gyllenhaal, but he’s definitely taking the road less traveled as an actor. I’m sure after the success of Brokeback Mountain that he’s had a number of fluff roles thrown his way for more cash. A David Fincher movie is probably one that comes with a huge payday also, but the difference here is that he’s really gotta dig deep and turn in a subtle-yet-solid performance and it’s his acting that really made the two and a half hours seem like a lot less. Jake stars here as the San Francisco newspaper comic writer who’s intrigue over the story lead him to eventually write the best selling book whose detail acts as the backbone for much of the film. It goes without saying that Robert Downey Jr. was great in the film. (Downey Jr. is one of the reporters.) Anthony Edwards, Ione Skye and even Dermot Mulroney play some of the smaller roles in this feature. Personally, for my money, this cast turned in as great a performance as the cast of The Departed without having to resort to all of the over the top acting and stereotypes. (But, of course, what do I know?)
Seven had to be one of the most incredible films that I have ever seen because you felt connected to Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as they searched for the killer. While this doesn’t possess the same creativity as a film where the “seven deadly sins” are featured, this film has some of that same quality. It’s very easy to follow the story as they track down the killer (certainly a lot easier than it is to internalize all of the details in an Oliver Stone film like JFK or Nixon). But much like those films, if you miss a key detail — get up to use the bathroom or doze off for a bit — it may be difficult to follow with key details missing. And so while the film’s running time is two hours and thirty-five minutes, it’s time that’s very well spent. For any film like this to work, it requires very careful pacing. The movie is split between three story arcs: the actual dramatization and re-enacting of the murders, the reporters and news media’s efforts to cover them (and to try and solve them) and the detective’s efforts to do the same. The film is very well edited — we never stay in one place too long. Just when you’ve had enough cop-talk, we’re moving into a creepy time and date-stamped scene where you start to brace yourself for another Zodiac killing. While the film isn’t a documentary, I dare say that you’d learn as much about the Zodiac killings and as effectively as you would by watching this film. In fact, after seeing this film, you’ll probably want to check out more details about the actual case (much like I did).
Being set in the 70s, this film does an excellent job of keeping the authenticity of the 70s without trying too hard to remind you. There are small reminders everywhere. Hairstyles and pant legs…..a mail carrier’s buggy… the classic 70s boring desk farm (that makes you appreciate the “cube farms” that we have today). The music is also incredible. Like any good director, he doesn’t use any of the obvious 70s songs. Instead, some of the more obscure songs that we remember from the 70s are featured — and even some that we don’t remember. This works better than it did if we had a bunch of number one hits from each of the respective years, as it provides and unfamiliar backdrop to the scenes and evokes and emotion all it’s own. Bottom line: they’ve got the 70s nailed. It’s all there and it works.
This film is more JFK than it is Seven. However, there are a few moments (outside of those obviously chilling moments of the killings) where, if you allow yourself to get caught up into the mood of the film, where you’ll be jumping out of your seat.
<SMALL SPOILER TO FOLLOW ABOUT HISTORY OF ZODIAC KILLER>
Most people who lived during that time are aware that the actual identity of the Zodiac Killer was never officially confirmed (although this film pretty much decides who it believes was responsible). I must say that I certainly was not aware that the killer was never found. It actually works incredibly well if you have no idea about the story. Even after I cheated during the viewing and looked this up, I must say that I was still as nervous watching some of the scenes where Fincher puts us alongside the actors in trying to question suspects as I was for any film in recent memory. Jake Gyllenhaal has one scene in particular that just freaks me out.
If there’s one complaint that you’ll hear from people about this film, it’s about the length (two hours and thirty five minutes). And as mentioned, in order to capture the varying pace of the film, it’s necessary that the film takes its time down this journey. I truly don’t feel like a minute of my two plus hours was wasted. I’d rather have invested the time in a movie like this and walk away knowing the story of the Zodiac killer as confidently as I do now.
Only the most fidgety and action hungry film goers will not appreciate what an entertaining and special film this is. It’s historically significant, suspenseful, thrilling and engaging — all at the same time. Fincher has done it again. Here’s looking forward to the proper DVD release with extras, director’s commentary and perhaps a documentary or two.