The thing that I love most about Zodiac is that it has a great story, something that I’ve almost forgotten existed. It reminds me of my experience watching the departed and being so excited wondering how they were going to rap things up and end the film because it was just unpredictable. It is a genuinely exciting feeling, to watch the end of a film and have it not simply be good guy fighting bad guy, good guy kills him. It is a shame in a way because it didn’t take some Charlie Kaufman, blending of genres and completely messing with your mind to make the ending compelling; the secret is just a good story, with originality, that didn’t follow the typical blockbuster format and structure which this year possibly reached an all time low.
They say half the directors job of working with actors is done when they cast the film well. Kudos to David Fincher for another well picked bunch. There are all the familiar faces in supporting roles who have graced the screen in other Fincher films like Fight Club and Se7en, and they are all totally buyable in the film. It’s great to see Robert Downey Junior on top form, as well as Anthony Edwards. Gyllenhaal too is fantastic as the puzzle solving writer, who becomes obsessed with the Zodiac and ends up having his life be completely intertwined and affected by the killer. At first I thought that his character had no where to go and thought his goals were a but sketchy, but reaching the end I do feel satisfied when… sorry no spoilers. His character is a puzzle solver, and an obsessive and it all comes together so well.
One of the aspects that makes this film so creepy for me and is possibly the reason it is so original, is that it is based on a true story. For those of you who don’t know, The Zodiac was an anonymous serial killer, spanning the sixties, seventies and eighties. This film tells the story of the men trying to understand him and catch him over that period. The time span of the film is almost thirty years. I think this really enhances the characters the film is the way that it shows how their lives were affected as a whole, and how the pursuit of the Zodiac affected their long term personalities, and drove them, in some cases to madness. It ruined some careers and in one great scene, drives Jake Gylenhaal’s character to try and force someone to say the name he believes the killer is. Seeing this huge spectrum really makes the relationship we have with the characters far more emotional, and it is what elevates this film to a status far above a typical slasher film or murder mystery. It does not have a back and forth plot that keeps you guessing at every turn, but rather a slow burning study and enthralling mystery that spans the decades, that is genuinely disturbing and a reminder to keep all my doors locked.
In running time, this film sits at just over two and a half hours, but I didn’t seem to feel it. It doesn’t move at a rapid pace like say, The Bourne Ultimatum, but Fincher Keeps you there, attentive, biting away at your finger nails wondering what is going to happen next. Although in many senses it does follow a traditional structure, due to the facts that it is based an real events as mentioned previously, the content and placement of that content in this film is something that can only truly happen in the randomness of life and reality. Because of this we this uneasy feeling, not knowing exactly what to expect from the story and the outcomes of the characters decisions.
Fincher’s story telling is lean, and the film contains a maturity in style, narrative and execution unseen is his previous efforts. The film itself may never be heralded as a classic and it is unfair to try and compare it to the dizzying heights of Fight Club and Se7en, but it is clear as a filmmaker, Fincher himself has matured and come a long way. The film is less punctuated and driven as Fight Club and Se7en, rather creating a subtlely which is not a virtue Fincher used to posses. This is even shown in the freedom of his camera which is worked so well in this film, often keeping us from seeing the killers face, but only by a few inches. The opening scene is a great example of this where it looks as though we are going to see their face, and then he cuts away, keeping us engaged. His camera is also not as showy he does not have flashy CG moments like in Fight Club and panic room that are simply just flashy and draw attention to themselves. Everything he does here serves the story.
This film was shot on High Definition, similar to Michael Mann’s Collateral. It gives the establishing shots a distinct style and the night time shots look especially great, because the sky and all the distant lights are picked up extremely well, placing the audience in what feels much more like a real environment. The tone and the atmosphere of the film is great, remaining creepy even during the day. The scene b y lake really disturbed me for reason’s unknown. Maybe it is because of the safeness and beauty of the location, that I was genuinely frightened seeing people being attacked there in the middle of the day. The film just keeps those nerves ticking as well, not in all out horror, but simply tension. It is this that also keeps you gripped for the full two and a half hours. This film really makes you edgy and really disturbed me when trying, along with the characters, to understand what made The Zodiac kill people and what drove him. I find it very unsettling.
This film is a great piece of entertainment; a well rounded story, well told that kept me tense all of the way through. With the addition of a more mature Fincher, it just made me think and wonder what his Mission: Impossible 3 could have been like had he stayed on board. It would have given Brian De Palma’s original a great run for it’s money.