film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Zodiac 2007 * * * * Stars

Director: David Fincher
Year: 2007
Rated R
Rating: * * * * Stars     Cole's Rating: * * * * Stars
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr.

In the wake of Jake Gyllenhaal's latest crime drama Prisoners (slated for a late September release), I thought I'd revisit one of his best films containing for my money, his best overall performance. Now Gyllenhaal, in anything good or bad, puts his heart and soul into many a role. His performance, much like the movie I'm now reviewing, is a tour de force. Zodiac, also a crime drama, portrays him as political cartoonist turned novelist and would be detective Robert Graysmith. While watching Gyllenhaal on screen, you can see many faceted layers to his acting persona. He dives into the proceedings with a feeling of anxiousness, fear (fear of failure that is), disciplined intensity, and earnestness. The members of the cast that fully accompany him are Mark Ruffalo (plays David Toschi, a proficient police detective with a noticeably high metabolism) and Robert Downey, Jr. (playing a burned out crime reporter who resorts to drugs and alcohol). They also are excellent in their roles and never miss a beat. Other members of the cast that filter in and out include Anthony Edwards, Elias Koteas, and Brian Cox.

Being a highly dialogue driven movie, Zodiac brings together a lot of reputable actors to keep the film from being boring and repetitive. Its director, David Fincher, excels at dealing with flicks that involve what I like to call, "the violence of the mind." Like in his 1995 hit Se7en, he'd rather show the aftermath and have you think about what you might have saw instead of having actually seen it. Zodiac is similar to Se7en for a portion of the way. However, it does show some murders (only about three with much less gore), doesn't concentrate as much on the killer (leans more toward telling the story of the killer's pursuer, especially in the second half), and it provides a lot more detail/insight contained in its script by James Vanderbilt (he wrote The Rundown and Darkness Falls to name a few). Taking in its absorbing 2 and a half hour running time, you can tell that everyone involved wanted to get every last detail just right. As I have stated in previous reviews, putting a true story out on film means honoring the material as much as possible. After reading the background information about Zodiac and viewing it multiple times, I applaud Fincher and company for churning out this highly detailed, rather exhausting masterpiece.

Playing like two different films in one (the first half is 1969 to 1972 and the obviously noted second half is 1976 to 1991) and showcasing a sort of underwhelmingly drab sense of time and place (this is actually very effective), Zodiac depicts true events revolving around the San Francisco Bay Area serial murderer known as well, the "Zodiac" killer. From 1969 to 1972, this person is pursued extensively (partly by newspaper reporters and police inspectors) and eventually never brought to justice. Only a few years later does a nobody cartoonist (who is unbelievably infatuated with the case) reopen things on his own. He thereby threatens to wreck his marriage, fracture his health, worsen his family values, and even expose himself to the mysterious killer by going on TV. The reasoning for all this: he just wants to see the "Zodiac," look at him in the face, and know that he found the right person. Another reason: he feels that no one else cares or wants to capture the vigilant (it might make sense because too much time has passed, this person only killed a few people, and in the last 5 years, San Francisco had over 200 murders).

As I said earlier, Zodiac is all about detail. The time lines that are shown in small captions at the bottom of the screen state the date, the place, and even the exact time. Then there is the feel of this exercise. It's no doubt Fincher's vision but I was somehow reminded of 1976's All The Presidents Men. It's obvious that both films rely heavily on dialogue. And I guess they both sometimes take place in a newsroom. Are they similar in plot? Not really. But the sense of urgency in both pictures accompanied by the eerie musical score (coming in at rare intervals), made me believe that Finch might have been a little influenced (subconsciously I suppose) by that 1976 Best Picture nominee.

Anyway, Zodiac was released in early March of 2007. And although it didn't garner one single Academy Award nomination, I still consider it one of the 5 best films of said year. With keen, meticulous direction and dynamic acting from the leads, this vehicle sweeps you into its superior, linear narrative. It really puts the "true" into true story. Next to the similar, yet more gruesome Se7en and his other dialogue driven masterpiece being The Social Network, this is David Fincher's finest hour. Overall, Zodiac is a treasure and a sure "sign" of movie greatness.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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