Directed by: David Fincher
Premise: Based on the books by Robert Graysmith. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Graysmith, a cartoonist for a California newspaper, who follows the story of the Zodiac killer and attempts to solve the mystery after the detectives assigned to the case (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards) have given up.
What Works: Zodiac embraces the police procedural in ways that television programs like CSI could only dream of. Rather than airbrush over the actual procedures and difficulties of police investigation, Zodiac embraces these elements, such as corroborating witnesses and collecting evidence, and uses them to drive the drama and conflict of the story. This film is a bit of a departure for Fincher. Zodiac finds him using less flash and slickness displayed in films like Fight Club and instead takes a direct approach more akin to Steven Spielberg’s dramatic films (Schindler’s List, Munich) or the police pictures of Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral). The approach pays off well and proves that Fincher is not only a technical expert but also proficient in crafting an effective story. The narrative is very impressive, introducing several characters and weaving between them very well while also balancing the information about the case and maintaining a sense of tension despite covering several decades from start to finish. The acting is good all around and something Zodiac does very well is to give each of its leads a satisfactory character arc the develop in relation to the Zodiac murders. Gyllenhaal is very good as Graysmith, who journeys from a sharply introverted cartoonist to an aggressive detective in his search for the truth. Robert Downey Jr. adds his characteristic humor as reporter Paul Avery whose ego, battle with alcoholism, and fear of the Zodiac killer destroy his career. Ruffalo and Edwards also give solid performances as the detectives assigned to the case, and the impact of the unsolved case on their personal and professional lives gives the murders cost beyond the obvious lose of life.
What Doesn’t: The film lacks some of the typical features of this kind of film, namely the gory deaths, but this is a film about the investigation, not the murders themselves.
Bottom Line: Zodiac ranks with The Silence of the Lambs, Summer of Sam, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer among the top tier of serial killer films. The film’s narrative complexity and its balance of information and drama is extremely impressive and the film proves that the horror genre can be both intelligent and dramatically engaging.
Episode: #132 (March 11, 2007)