Reviewed by Kevin Pearson.
The news that David Fincher was going to make another serial killer film was not encouraging. When he made Seven (1996) over ten years ago, he made a statement film that pronounced every style and theme that would characterize his later filmography: why did he have to make another film on the subject? With Zodiac, however, the news is excellent; he has superseded expectation and made a mature work.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. star in the true story of the notorious Zodiac killer that terrorized California from the late 60s and early 70s. Gyllenhaal is Robert Graysmith, a young cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes enthralled by the mystery and jeopardizes a new marriage through his obsession. Ruffalo is a homicide detective who puts his career on the line to solve the murder. Downey is a reporter who finds notoriety because of his writing, and tries to live on the same level of popularity as the killer. The film is a deeply involved in the details of the investigation, but the true portrait of this film is of the victims who committed their lives to following it.
The film is based on the books that Robert Graysmith wrote about the case years later, a document of the effects that murder has on the people committed to finding the killer. Many films have told the story that closure does not exist for the families of murder victims; Zodiac makes the same case for homicide detectives and investigators. Most crime films are the stuff of fictional heroics; Zodiac is a rare serious look at the reality of crime.
Fincher is here continuing to simplify his filmmaking. He became famous for heavily stylized films like Seven and Fight Club (1999). Then with Panic Room (2002) he started to condense his style. The story was simple and Fincher didn’t try to out-direct it. The film still had intricate camera shots, but Fincher was trying to honor the simplicity of the story. In Zodiac the maturation seems complete. The camera is almost stagnant throughout, and shows a dedication from Fincher to really gage the characters in the story. Certain shots will stand out to many who watch the film, but Fincher is more level-headed than ever in keeping the camera still and following the characters.
Zodiac seems like a good sign for things to come. Seven is not a bad film, but feels more a stylistic exercise whose story has little believability outside of a filmic realm. Zodiac not only has thoughtful characters, but it also digs at truths that many films have ignored. Fincher has not only made a better drama on the subject, but he has made a more meaningful film.
This review was published on March 12, 2007.
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