Thursday, May 6, 2010

Archive: "Zodiac" (2007)

David Fincher's ("Se7en," "Fight Club") "Zodiac" takes place over a sprawling couple of decades through the late 60s and the early 80s. Along the way, little reminders are given between just about every scene to remind the viewers how much time has passed by. It can get a little complicated at times, but this is complicated business being dealt with here; the confusion comes with the territory, and there's no backing out. The otherwise nameless Zodiac killer terrorized San Francisco citizens, and also taunted the police and reporters who were out to catch him. The ominous killer left the San Francisco Chronicle editorial letters describing each and every one of his kills, some of which may not have even been his own. He also sent four cryptograms along with these letters; only one of these four secret messages to this day has been solved. All of these small details make resonant the fact that this story is entirely real, and it makes you really hope that Zodiac is still not out there somewhere.

"Zodiac" is not about the actual Zodiac killer and the way he thinks or why he does what he does. The script of the movie does not revolve around the monster in discussion, but rather revolves around the actual talking that's being done; it sure is a lot of talking. It's about the public's fascination with this serial killer, and why people become so obsessed to begin with. This point holds strong because we're seeing this movie, and by doing so, we ourselves are becoming just as involved as the people on the screen. We are puzzled, horrified, tantalized, and drawn to the extreme edge of suspense throughout the entire endeavor. It's in this big way that the movie packs a certain emotional punch that normal "whodunits" really cannot ever possibly conceive. It's more than just a detective thriller, and David Fincher even jumps genres between scenes to keep the experience compelling.

Inside the crowded offices, the meetings, and the police stations, we meet the main people involved in the Zodiac case. Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is a head writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he is the one publishing the most stories about the Zodiac killer. He is admired and "loomed-over" by Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Graysmith is merely a cartoonist, and when he tries to get involved with the Zodiac case, he is simply reminded that he has a deadline to meet and is shooed away. Lastly, there's Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) who is on the other end of the spectrum as a detective who gets quickly involved with the case; he is quirky and enjoys animal crackers whenever he has a crime scene to be at.

There are countless other people involved in the search for the Zodiac killer, but these are the main ones to name. These certain people are worth mentioning because they're played by great actors who all give excellent performances. Jake Gyllenhaal shines as the innocent bystander who becomes the most involved out of anybody, and eventually writes the novel about Zodiac. Mark Ruffalo is exceptional, as well, playing a character whose mood noticeably shifts as he is at times ready to strangle the reporters getting in the way. Then there's Robert Downey Jr. who is pitch-perfect as a man who gets eventually tired of the Zodiac business and completely drops out; he is an alcoholic and a drug addict. He is hysterical because he so casually plays a character that makes everybody else around him so uncomfortable.

Following the extremely paranoid process of finding the killer becomes almost a comedy during some parts, which brings up David Fincher's ability to genre-hop within the confines of one movie. Although short, the small insights we're given into the Zodiac's numerous killings keep us haunted. One scene in particular involves a woman unknowingly being tormented by Zodiac on the side of the road when her car breaks down. This woman and her baby hitch a ride with the killer, and she becomes suspicious of his intentions. The Zodiac then nonchalantly states, "Before I kill you, I'm going to throw your baby out the window." Each one of these similar scenes is just as bone-chilling, and there's almost a sense of relief when the focus is brought back onto the reporters and the investigators.

Just when it seems things are heating up, the trail goes cold. Four years later, Robert Graysmith is basically the only person left interested in the Zodiac case. This big shift in the movie that divides it into two parts is what makes "Zodiac" feel so lengthy. That's not to say that it isn't lengthy because running at just over 2-and-a-half hours, the movie really demands your attention for quite some time. At a certain point, you can't help but wonder if all of the previous investigating was really worth showing. There is a dull spot, and some of the information shown earlier starts to feel a bit extraneous and unnecessary, which means that perhaps the movie could've been cut down to save some time. The real meat of the story comes along when Jake Gyllenhaal's character takes control, revealing the only real-life suspect known in the Zodiac case.

The biggest complaint I've heard about "Zodiac" is concerning the ending. It has been called inconclusive and unsatisfying, but I disagree with both of these statements. People who don't appreciate the ending really must not have appreciated the rest of the movie. At the end of it all, one should be realizing that it certainly is not about the solution but rather all about the process involved with trying to get to a solution. The ending only gives off the illusion of being inconclusive due to the fact that the movie is based on a real case, which is still unsolved to this day. I found the entire experience to be extraordinarily satisfying overall. Before the credits roll, facts on the real-life Zodiac case are displayed to further remind us that everything we just witnessed is based on something that really happened and something that was really obsessed over this much.

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