Friday, April 16, 2010

Zodiac (2007)

USA, 157 minutes
Director: David Fincher
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Photography: Harris Savides
Music: David Shire
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloë Sevigny, Candy Clark, Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall

A brooding meditation that is relentlessly fascinating, comfortably inhabiting its leisurely length of some nearly three hours, which go by like a blink. It explores the never-solved case of the Zodiac, a serial killer who operated out of northern California in the late '60s and early '70s and sent taunting notes and ciphers (only one of which was ever cracked) to San Francisco Bay Area police and the San Francisco Chronicle as he murdered his way to infamy before suddenly and mysteriously stopping. Perhaps needless to say, the case is strange and shocking, unusual for a number of reasons even in the serial killer genre (of true crime and film both)—not least because the self-proclaimed Zodiac stopped at all, which our understanding of serial killers shows they generally don't do, but also because he claimed his victims using different methods, alternating guns and knives, changing up locales and times of day and approaches to his victims. A cartoonist at the Chronicle (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) takes an interest in the case and ends up devoting years to following leads and investigating the long-term suspects that the police could never clear, which offers byzantine entries into strange California underworlds of paranoia and the sordid. The movie is essentially based on the book of the same name by the cartoonist, Robert Graysmith. Fincher, who has never much impressed me—I particularly detested Fight Club—has done a masterful job here, setting a nicely obsessive tone that inexorably and genially draws us into its orbit, and assembling a real all-star extravaganza along the way to do so. Besides Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo is terrific as the police detective charged with the case who becomes nearly as preoccupied as Graysmith with solving it, and Robert Downey Jr. turns in his usual fine performance as Paul Avery, an arrogant crime reporter at the Chronicle who also worked on the case for years. For those who like their mysteries resolved, Graysmith and Fincher make a strong case for who the killer was, and why he stopped. I like the theory, but it's just a theory. We really still don't know.

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