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 David Fincher's Zodiac

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: David Fincher's Zodiac   Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:24 am

Quick history lesson, just so you know, but without giving away too much, The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who terrorised San Francisco and Northern California during the late 1960's/early 1970's, claiming to have killed at least 37 people, but after much investigation, police agree he could only have ever killed seven people. He sent letters to the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner, confessing to the murders of Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday on December 20, 1968, and Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau on July 4th 1969, (note: Mageau survived). His letters were accompanied by a coded cryptogram, which gave him the identity of The Zodiac Killer. But, what's more interesting is that nobody ever caught The Zodiac Killer, which drove police and reporters to their wits end, save for one political cartoonist, Robert Graysmith, who wrote two books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America’s Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed, about the case and mystery surrounding The Zodiac Killer. So, how do you make a film based on a case that was never solved? How would you end it? You give it to David Fincher, who raised the standard of serial killer films with Se7en (1995). Zodiac (2007) is Fincher firing on all cylinders, probabily his best film since Fight Club (1999), he takes the notion of a serial killer flick, and turns it upside-down, inside out, back to front, whatever. It's a serial killer flick, but not as you know it.

The action starts with the Zodiac Killer preying upon Ferrin and Mageau, and his letter being sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is where young political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), works and is instantly intrigued by the taunting letter sent by the Zodiac Killer, and the codes sent to baffle the press and police, the Chronicle's crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is investigating the case, he eventually teams up with Graysmith, working beyond the call of duty, to solve The Zodiac Killer's clues. This is just one of two stories, whereas this one is shown from the reporters perspective, the other is shown from that of the police, two detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), who are investigating the case of murdered taxi-driver Paul Stine, shot and killed on October 11, 1969 in Presidio Heights in San Francisco, their investigation lead them to suspect Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch), who is a very likely suspect, but evidence proves otherwise, just circumstantial. It tests the police and reporter Avery to their limits, but years later, only Graysmith is still obsessed with the case.

The Zodiac Killer was probabily the American equivelant of Jack The Ripper, a serial killer who eluded police for so long, and his case still remains open. It's rare to do a film where we see murders being committed, but not knowing who our killer is, even so, we STILL don't know by the end, we'll probabily never know, even to this day, Graysmith still studies the murders and the suspects. But, Fincher creates a gripping, slow-burning drama that focuses primarily on the reporters and police investigating the Zodiac murders, Fincher lends his trademark dark stylistics to the film, done with a darkish hue, showing a dark side to San Francisco in the 1960's, a world away from the hippies that associated it at that time, hell, even the rainstorms that frequented Fincher's Se7en appear throughout. It's beautifully shot, on digital cameras, by Harris Savides, (who worked with Fincher on the hugely underrated The Game (1997)), gives an epic sweep to a tightly knit thriller. To give time and setting, Fincher even uses old-style Warner Bros. and Paramount logos from the mid to late 1960's to start the film off!! Razz

Performance wise, Zodiac is near flawless, with Jake Gyllenhaal continuing to show his maturity with each passing film, Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead are nothing compared to his portrayal of a man who chooses never to give in with hunting down the Zodiac Killer, even when no-one else was. He gets close to a potential suspect, cinema-owner Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer, best known to kids as the voice of Roger Rabbit), which becomes the most suspensful and terrifying scene in the film. Robert Downey Jr. is a great edition as Paul Avery, proving he is still a good actor, and is able to turn his attention to just about anything. Ruffalo is one actor who we should all keep an eye on, giving a convincing performance as Toschi, an overstressed cop, but adding humour for wearing bow-ties, Anthony Edwards is an underrated actor, best known to many as Dr. Mark Greene from ER, who gives life to a good character, Toschi's partner whom he remains faithful to, until the Zodiac case overwhelms to the point of resignation from his department. Plus, cameos from recognisable character actors such as Brian Cox, Elias Koteas and Philip Baker Hall complete an already gripping and exciting film.





This is the best film of 2007 so far, but it pains me so much that it failed to find a breakout audience in America. It makes such a refreshing change to other serial killer films, audiences should have seen that, but I think they were expecting too much, and it does run to 2 1/2 hours, but Fincher has a big canvas to work with here. Piecing together a complex and intriguing puzzle, and successfully giving an end to an open-ended case. It's a film which requires your full attention, it skips days, weeks, months even years frequently. But, it was a case which tested 4 people, seeing 3 of them drop out, but Graysmith doesn't look as if he'll ever give in. Fincher proves he is still one of the most potent and exciting directors out their today, it's been 5 long, painful years since his last film, Panic Room (2002), but he's made up for lost time by triumphantly returning to a serial killer flick, and maybe reinventing the serial killer flick completely. Adding something new to a tried and worn genre.

Even with the film in the can, Fincher had more to say, and has since added just a little bit more to the already exhaustive and obsessive film. His Director's Cut of the film, which has since been given a DVD release is 5 minutes longer, and the features go into so much detail of what the film explored!! The features include:

Commentary by David Fincher

Commentary by Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr, Producer Brad Fischer, James Vanderbilt and James Ellroy

Zodiac Deciphered documentary

Visual Effects of Zodiac featurette

Theatrical Trailer

This is the Zodiac Speaking featurette

His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen feaurette




Zodiac: Director's Cut is out on DVD in the UK on September 29th 2008. (AT LAST!!) It's well worth buying if you saw the film, alot of people have waited for this edition, (never mind the vanilla DVD), it's as comprehensive and as detailed as what Fincher's film is!!

Well done Mr. Fincher!! Roll on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button!! Very Happy
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