Dir: David Fincher, 2007. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr. English. Drama. Mystery/Suspense.

Zodiac is a smart, taut, and engrossing film about the titular, self-named serial killer who terrorized Northern California in the late ‘60s. The murderer, who was never caught, remains a phantom in David Fincher’s drama; the director of Se7en instead focuses his versatile camera on the men whose pursuit of the elusive, taunting psychopath evolves into obsession over the course of years.

After a bang-up opening – Zodiac’s second attack – the film enters the newsroom of the San Francisco Chronicle, where crime-beat reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) learn of the killer’s bravado letter to the paper. Soon, a murder in San Francisco pulls lead investigator Dave Tosci (Mark Ruffalo) into the vortex. The action follows the three men as they become increasingly consumed while leads dry up, a key suspect appears, and Zodiac mocks the police and the press as the case drags on.

The picture remains absorbing over its two-and-a-half-hour length, piling up a wealth of keenly observed details. Contemporaneous music and unobtrusive special effects effectively recreate the times without ladling on obvious period detail. The three leads acquit themselves brilliantly; they are ably supported by such players as Brian Cox, doing a letter-perfect impersonation of superstar attorney Melvin Belli, and Chloe Sevigny, as Graysmith’s long-suffering wife.

It’s a terrific piece of work – part police procedural, part get-that-story gumshoe journalism. But Zodiac ultimately derives its considerable, unsettling affect from the subtle ambiguity of its storytelling. The killer is depicted as an evil at large, a wraith whose hand destroys or warps everyone it touches, victims and trackers alike. As in classic horror films, what is most monstrous is what remains unseen. 

Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 19, 2008 3:14pm
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