Tuesday, August 07, 2007


The verdict: Immersive, lovingly created psychological drama that focuses on a small group of people obsessed with catching an elusive killer.

The rating: 8/10

Now this is a movie. Right from the languid opening moments, when the camera trawls slowly over a night-time vista of a fireworks display, and the soothing, late seventies soundtrack caresses the eardrums, the audience should be in no doubt. The message, right from the off, is to sit back, strap yourself in, and enjoy the journey.

In those first scenes, where a young couple foolishly decide to head to a lonely late night make-out spot (first rule of horror films people, keep your kit on! - Ed), the uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking that this is another teen slasher movie in the vein of something like 'Road Kill' or 'The Hitcher'. Luckily however, this movie was crafted by David Fincher, so we are in for an entirely different kind of journey.

Fincher has had an interesting career, even by Hollywood standards. He started out as a miniature artist on small movies like (*cough*) 'Return of The Jedi' and (*cough*) 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'. Next, perhaps emulating Martin Scorcese, he cut his directorial eye teeth with a concert movie. However, like so many other directors currently making the big bucks in Hollywood, he really gained notoriety as a music video director, churning out pop promos for small-time musical acts such as Sting ('Englishman in New York'), Michael Jackson ('Who is it') and Madonna (would you believe it: 'Vogue'!).

His big break came with a franchise instalment, but unfortunately, 'Alien 3' was a stylish failure, allowing Fincher room to demonstrate his technical expertise, but possibly at the expense of a decent story. However, treading in the footsteps of Ridley Scott and James Cameron is no easy thing to do.. (but I'll be honest with ya folks, I've always had a soft spot for Alien 3). The rest, you probably know already. After all, this is the guy behind 'Fight Club' and 'Seven', unquestionably two modern classics, but also 'The Game', an oft-overlooked little gem featuring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, and a wickedly mind-bending story.

With 'Zodiac', Fincher has brought a labour of love to the screen. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle in the seventies and eighties, it tells the story of 'The Zodiac', a serial killer who loomed large in San Francisco in the late 70's. With a craving for media attention and a love of puzzles, this killer captured the attention of the public for half a decade. This guy was never cuaght, and taunted the media and the police with clues as to his identity, sending them letters, and even ringing in to televised talkshows to talk of his exploits.

Jake Gyllenhall plays Robert Graysmith, and he is instinctively drawn to the case right from moment the Zodiac's first letter is received at his office. Crime Correspondent Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is charged with reporting on the case, but he picks up on Graysmith's intuition as to why the killer is sending puzzles, and together they work on cracking the case. Meanwhile, the police investigation is headed by Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner, played by Anthony Edwards (the Goose man! - Ed).

The story follows the timeline of the case, and tracks the effect this investigation has on the people most closely involved with it. At first, Toschi is the man obsessed, and he comes painfully close to an arrest at one point. However, the physical evidence simply isn't on his side, so his suspect goes free. Avery (Downey) for his part, angers the Zodiac by referring to him as a latent homosexual, and for a time his life appears to be at risk, which only fuels Avery's problems with alcohol.. and the rest.

As the years pass since the Zodiac's last killing, Avery's career goes on a downward spiral. Possibly in an attempt to help his friend, but also possibly out of self-interest, Graysmith offers to help Avery write a book on the Zodiac, but Avery isn't interested. And so begins Graysmith's obsession with the case.

The central performances in this movie are all strong, and are as close to perfect casting as you will see. Gyllenhall's character is moody and weird, Downey's is a fully-functioning alcoholic, and Ruffalo - although almost unrecognisable compared to his character in 'Eternal Sunshine' - is a driven, ambitous and emotional cop. The supporting cast, are all great too, with Brian Cox seemingly omnipresent lately, but the screen is full of recognisable, talented faces, all adding to the atomsphere of the drama.

In terms of atmosphere, the most ready comparison I could make would be with Spike Lee's excellent 'Summer of Sam', but Zodiac is a better movie, if a slightly different animal.

The movie looks and sounds absolutely great, and will be a dream for any HD LCD or Plasma TV owner. Every scene is framed beautifully, and this is a much more colourful film than most of Fincher's previous work, synonymous as it is with either darkness ('Seven') or monochrome colours ('Panic Room'). The soundtrack is atmospheric and seamlessly works with the action, adding to the feeling of being placed in the 70's.

Part police procedural drama, part ensemble mystery story, one criticism I would have of Zodiac is that it is a little long. However, this is not to say that there are any vacuous moments in the movie, it's just that there really is a lot of detail up there on screen.

However, the central performances are all outstanding, the direction and script are top notch and the story is definitely one worth hearing. For these reasons I'd heartily recommend 'Zodiac', and reckon it's easily one of the best movies I've seen this year so far.

1 comment:

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