Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The latest offering of director David Fincher (best known for Seven and Panic Room) is the suspenseful thriller Zodiac which retraces the true story of a serial killer in the 1960s who claimed to be responsible for the deaths of several individuals in and around San Francisco. Starring Robert Downey Junior as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mark Ruffalo as a police detective and Jake Gyllenhaal as a young cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the crimes, this talented cast leads us through the development of the investigation as the murders continue.

Fincher’s film is based on a chronological, and at times somewhat tedious, step by step approach to the murders and the games the killer plays on the police and journalists. Keen on never being caught but constantly being heard, the killer who goes by ‘Zodiac’ sends frequent letters to the editors at the San Francisco Chronicle proving he is the perpetrator of recent murders and promising to strike again if his letters are not published. Many scenes take place in the office of the San Francisco Chronicle where the 1970s atmosphere is brilliantly reconstructed. The shots of many typewriters, of the characters in plated suits with suspenders and of the patriarchal nature of the journalists and police officers brings back an old investigative world long erased by shows such as CSI and Law and Order.

The first part of the movie focuses on the official investigation of the police forces who cannot get a hold of the Zodiac. Constantly changing appearance, and sending a mix of truthful and bogus information to the journalists, the investigation ends as an unresolved puzzle of frustration. The second part of the film then emphasizes Gyllenhaal’s character Robert Graysmih who obsessively decides to take on the investigation everyone has left behind. Graysmith thus finds himself alone in his search, which adds overt suspense to the many scenes of him interacting with the people he suspects and those he has to interrogate to collect information. Gyllenhaal offers one of his best performances to date, as a young outcast who is set on discovering the truth.

Disappointingly, the movie does not focus at all on the psychological state of the murderer or his inner destabilized nature. Instead, we are presented with evidence of the crime scenes, with crude shots of the victims and detailed portrayals of the deaths of the characters. These scenes are however void of any additional drama with no suspenseful music to frame the action or attempts to fool the audience as to when the murder will occur. In fact, the only time this happens is when Robert Graysmith finds himself in front of who we are led to believe is the killer only to realize he is harmless.

Interestingly, the movie does not provide the traditional payoff expected of most detective films, but the very fact that Zodiac is based on a true story makes the entire feature all the more disturbing and unsettling.

- Jennifer Bartoli