****1/2 (out of 5)
March 2, 2007
Jake Gyllenhaal as ROBERT GRAYSMITH
Mark Ruffalo as DAVID TOSCHI
Anthony Edwards as WILLIAM ARMSTRONG
Robert Downey Jr. as PAUL AVERY
Brian Cox as MELVIN BELLI
John Carroll Lynch as ARTHUR LEIGH ALLEN
Chloe Sevigny as MELANIE
Directed by: David Fincher
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Although most film buffs know that David Fincher made his feature film directing debut with “Alien3,” most will agree that he made his first big splash with “Se7en.” This film redefined the serial killer story for the mid-1990s. Everyone seems to imitate that movie to some degree now, whether it be from the cinematography angle or the psycho killer profile angle.
I loved “Se7en,” and not just because Gwenyth Paltrow gets decapitated. I loved it because it was such a fresh, visceral take on serial killers. Fincher (with help from writer Andrew Kevin Walker and actor Kevin Spacey) managed to pull of an incredibly realistic villain that was also sensational enough to make it in Hollywood.
Fincher is returning to his serial killer roots with his latest film, “Zodiac.” The film profiles the spectacle surrounding the Zodiac killer, who terrorized the San Francisco area in the late 60s and early 70s. It’s not necessarily about the killings per se, although they are depicted with shocking and grisly detail. Rather, it’s about the hype surrounding it and the investigations into the suspects and the questions left unanswered.
Based on Robert Graysmith’s book, the film features Jake Gyllenhaal as the author, who was a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle during the time of the Zodiac. Graysmith plays a secondary role through most of the movie, which focuses on the detectives investigating the case and the newspaper’s role in making it a media spectacle.
Like last year’s “Hollywoodland,” this film offers an explanation to the crimes and makes some pretty concrete conclusions. But you have to remind yourself that this is Graysmith’s take on the whole thing. Even after seeing the movie, I was compelled to start looking up information about the real Zodiac when I got home. Not surprisingly, it came become an obsession. (I didn’t get to sleep until almost 6 a.m. the next morning.)
Too often, movies that take place in the 60s or 70s are victims of their own nostalgia. I’ve seen plenty of films ruined by forcing a hip soundtrack or having too many scenes that show the obligatory decadence of the decades. I was afraid this would happen in “Zodiac,” but I was pleasantly surprised with the result. Rather than making a love letter to the era, Fincher paints a somber picture with the pop culture as merely a backdrop. His focus is the complicated and winding facts and speculations on the case itself.
The biggest complaint I heard about the film from others who attended the screening was that it was too long. It was long – clocking in at 158 minutes – but I wouldn’t say it was too long. I was riveted to the screen for more than two and a half hours, even when the investigation took a path that led to a dad end. It’s a long, confusing ride, but that was the nature of the case. That’s what made the film seem so real.
The acting was top-notch. Gyllenhaal plays a subdued Graysmith, which is pretty well in check considering he’s the hero of his own story. Mark Ruffalo, who normally leaves me cold, turns in a solid, mature performance. Other stand-out roles include Anthony Edwards as one of the detectives, Brian Cox as sensational lawyer Melvin Belli and John Carroll Lynch as one of the key suspects.
Still, the best performance comes from Robert Downey Jr. as the flamboyant San Francisco Chronicle writer Paul Avery, who was taunted by the Zodiac presumably because of the stories he wrote about the killings.
Fincher takes the audience for a chilling ride into history, giving us a fascinating view into the fear that the Zodiac caused. It gives us no definitive answers, which is probably on of the most unsettling things about the whole story – that the Zodiac is still out there.