Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: his is Zodiac – Documentary (27-Minutes); Trailers.
DAVID Fincher serves notice of why he continues to be regarded as one of the boldest, darkest and most fascinating directors of the moment with Zodiac, a gripping account of one of America’s biggest unsolved crimes.
The Zodiac killer remains the US equivalent of Britain’s Jack the Ripper because of the way he taunted and evaded police after a series of killings that began in 1969.
But while the authorities pinned him with seven victims, five of whom died, Zodiac insists he claimed more. And Fincher, for the purposes of this film, purports that his reach extended to the living as well.
Rather than examining the crimes from the killer’s perspective, the film looks at the lives of the men investigating them and how the case shaped their destinies.
The men are police inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), as well as crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), upon whose best-selling book the film has also been based.
All four became obsessed with breaking the case and all paid a heavy price for failing to do so.
As such, Fincher’s film works as both a riveting police procedural and an intriguing insight into the emotional toll of crime on the people investigating it.
Ruffalo, in particular, charts Toschi’s rise and fall from grace with heartfelt intensity, portraying the inspector as a man who cared but who was ultimately defeated by the system and his own celebrity (Steve McQueen reportedly based many of Bullitt’s character traits on him).
But there’s equally notable turns from Edwards, as his dry-witted long-time partner, and Downey Jr, as the dogged, cynical Avery, whose pursuit of the case eventually gave rise to paranoia and an inability to overcome his addictions.
Gyllenhaal, for his part, has to wait for the film’s focus to fall on him given that his cartoonist begins as a hopelessly shy loner who follows the case’s progress from the sidelines. But once given the opportunity, the actor skillfully shows how it became an obsession that placed both his sanity and marriage at risk.
If there’s a criticism, Fincher’s film does suffer from the grim inevitability of the unsolved nature of the crime, which makes it more predictable than his most daring works, Se7en and Fight Club.
But the director still manages to rise above such limitations (and an extremely generous running time) with several set pieces that raise the tension to often unbearable heights.
The early killings are extremely well executed and unapologetically violent, while later scenes carry a keen sense of paranoia and fear as Graysmith homes in on potential suspects and finds the killer’s attention diverted his way (most notably during a scene in the basement of a shady repertory cinema programmer). Audiences will be biting their fingernails with anticipation.
There’s also a keen sense of time and place (San Francisco is particularly well shot) and a very nice nod to Don Siegel’s ’70s masterpiece Dirty Harry, whose villain was based on the Zodiac.
It’s for these reasons – and several more – that Fincher’s film emerges as one of the finest American releases of the year so far. It’s essential viewing.
Running time: 158mins