THIS IS THE ZODIAC
I really dug Zodiac. I read the Robert Graysmith book
when it first came out and I think David Fincher did a great job
capturing the feel of the story without compromising the facts.
Fincher shows a surprising amount of restraint in the movie,
considering this is the guy that gave us the over the top serial
killer masterpiece, Seven (sorry, I can't bring myself to use that
lame "7" in the middle spelling). The killings attributed to The
Zodiac Killer are done in a very unglamorous matter of fact style
that's actually refreshing considering the wave of sadistic torture
collages with grainy stock footage and high volume rock music we've
grown accustomed to as of late. They seem very real, and in the case
of the Lake Berryessa killings, even more tragic than they would have
I may not be the best judge of this film, and frankly can't figure
out how the average movie goer is going to respond. It's 2 hours and
40 minutes and JAM PACKED with evidence, facts, and figures that all
seem pretty true to the actual case. So those familiar with the real
Zodiac crimes should be pleased that there's not any crazy Hollywood
embellishment going on here.
That being said, if you're looking for some serial killer du jour
film, I don't think this movie is going to do it for you. The cast is
fantastic, and Jake Gyllenhaal as cartoonist/author/part time Hardy
Boy Robert Graysmith has a sullen and obsessive charm that works
wonderfully in the role. In one scene, he asks a fellow newspaper
employee nicknamed Shorty if he hates being called that, to which
he's asked, "Do you hate it when people call you retarded?" He plays
the part with a clueless abandon that really makes you feel for the
Robert Downey, Jr. is also a kick as The Chronicle's crime reporter,
Paul Avery, who gets to stretch his acting range by playing a coked
out drunk writer. Mark Ruffalo is also exceptional as the animal
cracker munching Detective Tosci, who becomes consumed with the case
in more ways than one. There's other great performances, that are
perfectly cast so as not to make you feel it's one of those Oliver
Stone movies with famous people in every part. Brian Cox is
particularly good as attorney Melvin Belli and Chloe Sevigny owns
every second she's on film as Graysmith's ladyfriend.
It's nice to see a true crime movie that for once doesn't glamourize
the crime. Indeed, The Zodiac Killer with his coded letters and
taunting of the police and press, made him seem like a comic book
super villian. And the fact that he was never caught certainly thows
him up there with Jack the Ripper as one of the all time infamous
murderers. But red tape, job burn out, and inability to put what at
times seem to be obvious clues together from multiple organizations
that end up being the real antagonist of the movie.
Again, kudos to Finch for holding back and letting the story tell
itself properly with the script and actors. There are certainly some
flourishes that stick out that are pure Fincher that I won't reveal
here, so if you're a fan of his style, you won't be disappointed.
In the original version of the book that I read, there was some
speculation as to the killer's identity, and you can certainly read
an awful lot about more recent findings that have been incorporated
into the film on Wikipedia if you really want to know more about the
case (and perhaps spoil some of the film's direction, if you didn't
already know). Ultimately, however, the story ends with a feeling of
dread that works nicely.
It's hard to know what to spoiler about real life events, but the
movie doesn't take any liberties or suggest anything new that
Graysmith hasn't already suggested.
My only disappointment is that nobody ever read the line in the
Zodiac letters about how he thought The Exorcist was one of the
funniest films he'd ever seen. Most of the other evidence, down to
the goofy greeting cards, was pretty faithfully recreated, too.
There's great attention to detail with the period, with very cool
'70s era news vans and mail trucks driving by. There's also a super
gorgeous computer simulated time lapse of The Transamerican Pyramid
being built while clouds roll by.
There are certainly some pacing issues with the film
that may irk some, but I found the subject matter to be so
fascinating that I didn't have any problems with it. I did have
the feeling that there's a longer cut in the making, however, as
there's a really awkward bit in the last 15% of the film where
Graysmith's son shows him some important clue in a coded letter
that's never all that clear or explained. I wonder if it was cut out
This will be a great deluxe 2 DVD set when it comes
out, for sure.
Overall, a good movie, that's a bit long, and a breath of fresh air
for this sort of film.