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Zodiac: Spooky and Solid

Going into Zodiac, I was preemptively annoyed that it was such a long film, running 2 hours and 40 minutes. Director David Fincher even made the bold claim that he "couldn't find a way" to make it shorter, which made me roll my eyes. But when I went blinking back into the real world, I felt I actually could have watched even more. For one thing, it was a great movie and I really enjoyed it. For another, though, the case piqued my interest, and I still have questions.

The film primarily follows Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1960s and 1970s as he becomes gradually obsessed with the case of the Bay Area serial killer, The Zodiac. The killer sent letters and cryptograms to the Chronicle in which he claimed to have committed several murders and threatened many more if the newspaper did not run his letters. Thus, he became a media sensation. The Zodiac's elusiveness became infuriating and embarrassing for multiple police departments, and eventually, the letters stopped arriving. Long after the case faded from public interest, however, a few journalists and investigators were still obsessed with the Zodiac - Graysmith in particular — so

Gyllenhaal's Graysmith is the only real bleak spot in the cast of extremely capable actors. He comes across as a wide-eyed goody-goody with no identifiable reason why he gives up his life to pursue a case that is all but forgotten. Ruffalo far outshines him as investigator Dave Toschi, creating a character you immediately trust and want to succeed and playing nicely off his partner William Armstrong ("ER"'s Anthony Edwards). Robert Downey Jr. does his normal thing as the seasoned crime journalist Paul Avery, delivering his cynical lines in the usual deadpan, slightly effeminate manner.

One of the most fascinating things about the story is how the Zodiac used the media in a period of technological history that is drastically different from today's. It was a time when a call trace could take 15 minutes, few police departments even had a fax machine, and people didn't have cell phones, not to mention cameras in their cell phones. The way this one person could create such a public frenzy and elude the grasp of so many is baffling to modern audiences and was certainly of interest to the filmmakers.

With comparatively little gore, it’s a far cry from Fincher’s Seven or Fight Club, coming off more like a documentary in its meticulous attention to every piece of evidence. By two-thirds of the way into it, we are as worn down by the investigation as the characters are, and while that is true, the movies’ timeline sweeps along too swiftly to elicit much frustration. The way Fincher builds suspense is admirable, and the way he sustains this suspense and unravels each discovery even more so. The subject matter could have lent itself to more bloodshed and unrestrained, Hollywood-y deviation from the facts, but Fincher didn't fall into those traps. The storytelling is steady and controlled, creating - despite no actual resolution to the case - a fully satisfying movie.

Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Join The Conversation
dixierain68 dixierain68 9 years
Buzz, I just watched this on pay-per-view, and I felt exactly the same way as you. I was dreading the almost 3-hour movie but when it was over, I was like - what, it's already over? I could have watched another 3 hours. And then today I went and read pages and pages on the Zodiac killer on Great movie!
woodycakes woodycakes 10 years
still excited about it. ;D
Classy-Amelia Classy-Amelia 10 years
I really want to see this movie. Seems like a good movie to watch.
Butrfly4404 Butrfly4404 10 years
I didn't even know that RDJ or Anthony Edwards were IN this! I saw the back-story on some news show. They talked about the REAL guy and what he went through. I'm glad you "rated" the gore. That's one thing that keeps me from seeing a lot of movies. There's so much gore and sadness and evil in the world, I don't like devoting hours to purposefully WATCH it!! Anyway, I thought this looked interesting. It's going on my queue now (WHAT??? I don't GO to the movies!!)
Lindsb Lindsb 10 years
Jake looks great and so does the movie!!
vrico2005 vrico2005 10 years
A great, solid movie? I will have to check it out then Thanks Buzz! :PEPINO:
Linda-McP Linda-McP 10 years
Thanks for this great review, Buzz. The local Pittsburgh, PA critic thought it was a solid movie as well. With two out of two of my favorite reviewers agreeing, I'm planning to see this one this weekend.
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