Well what do ya know. I see a new Fincher film a couple of weeks ago and suddenly one of the few I was still yet to see turns up from Lovefilm. Obviously it’s this film I am about to review, Zodiac. I always think Fincher is at his best when doing a good crime thriller. He seems to enjoy creating a puzzle box of a mystery that the viewer can get as engrossed in as the central characters do. When it comes to real life crime mysteries there’s not many more legendary than that of The Zodiac. Click on the jump to read my review!
For those that don’t know, Zodiac was an alias for a serial killer in the late 60s and early 70s that had a penchant for taunting the police by sending letters to the police and the press, often including a cypher of some kind to decode. His puzzles and the mystery of his identity became a major part of life in San Fransisco at that time. Especially after he threatened to attack a bus full of school children, a threat Fincher was quite aware of as a child growing up in that very state. The film follows the mystery of Zodiac’s identity and the investigation to put a stop to his killings from the beginning to the very end, a span of little over 20 years.
The story is told from multiple perspectives focusing on the criminal investigation by Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) for much of the first half and the personal obsessive investigation of cartoonist and real life author of the book the film is based on Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) for the second. Jake’s character is there from the start and we follow his gradual shift from being an member of the public intrigued by The Zodiac’s puzzles to being man possessed with the idea of finding out who he is after the rest of the world has moved on. Whilst Graysmith is the main character it is David Toschi that drives the investigation forward until it is time for Robert to take over. The shift is smooth and it’s interesting to note how the character screen time balance inverts with this shift in narrative.
One of Jake Gyllenhaal’s strengths as an actor is his ability to play obsessive characters. He can move from appearing to be in wonder of something early on in a film to a more psychologically unbalanced obsessive state in the latter half, Donnie Darko being an obvious example. Here that strength is played upon fully from start to finish. As you see Robert getting more and more consumed by his obsession Jake starts to ramp up the intensity and inability to focus on anything else as required of the performance. I do wonder about the logic behind some of his movie roles over the years but here he is the perfect fit for the material presented.
That’s not to say he’s the only stand-out performance in Zodiac. Mark Ruffalo is as reliable as ever showing his ability to add nuance to a performance that helps make his characters that little bit more likeable. Anthony Edwards plays fellow Inspector William Armstrong putting in a solid performance that reminded me a hell of a lot of the sort of performances Kevin Costner would provide back when he was passable. So in JFK I guess. Brian Cox does his American accent that he loves to do so much and pretty much does what he does well. Which is be brilliant. The cast in this film is huge with everyone being perfectly cast. If there’s one person that threatens the balance it’s Robert Downey Jr as Journalist Paul Avery. Now don’t get me wrong, I love his scatty semi-drunk character as much as the next guy. The thing is that it’s a little too attention grabbing when played against the rest of the cast. I suppose it’s partly the point of the character but I’m sure he could have at least come up with a few new ways to portray this type of role.
As is always the case with a David Fincher film the visuals and audio are impeccable. He knows when to stylise, when to tone it back and when to layer on the visual impact with clockwork precision. Sure he loves to bath a number of shots in browns and golds but he thankfully also knows when not to. He also loves using black to create a very sinister tone. Some of the night time murder sequences play out like a hybrid of a psycho killer movie and a film noir. Zodiac utilises a liberal amount of period music to set the tone which is always a nice solid way to establish the era aurally. It’s a little cliché true but it works well. Another of Fincher’s strengths is how well he knows when to slow the pace down and also when to use silence. A highway abduction scene makes a chilling use of silence to make sure the horror about to be inflicted really hits home. More directors could learn from this. You don’t always need a wall of sound… Michael Bay.
If you’re already aware of the history of this case then there’s still plenty to enjoy. The film is a excellently pieced together thriller that revels in making it’s viewers pick up the bread crumb trail along with it’s leads. A thriller that fails to do this isn’t a thriller at all. There’s no point trying to have a mystery if the audience gets ahead of the main characters for no reason. That never happens once in Zodiac. You’re constantly second guessing every piece of evidence and waiting for the big reveal just as much as Robert Graysmith does in the film, and as he did in real life. This is a top tier thriller that may drag on a little longer than the average film but it uses all that running time wisely and efficiently.
Well that’s review No.99 done. The 100th will be up on Saturday night at whatever the hell time I get around to finishing it. Subscribe to the blog to see just what epicness I have in store first!