Director David Fincher’s meticulous attention to detail combined with his downbeat style and visual mastery has created a highly effective, but subdued thriller about the real-life Zodiac serial killer who was never caught by the police despite an investigation spanning two decades in several counties and cities in the United States. Unlike a standard thriller which would focus solely on the search for the killer, Fincher and his team expand on this premise by exploring the police and media aspects of the story to the point where these aspects become more interesting than the search for the killer himself. There’s a sense in this film that if the Zodiac killer were alive today that he probably would have been caught fairly quickly, but back in the late 60s and 70s, the inefficiencies between police jurisdictions and their inability to talk to one another contributed to the Zodiac’s longevity, coupled with the fact that the Zodiac’s methods back then were unheard of. “Zodiac” is not your typical thriller in that it will make you jump out of your seat in the scary scenes, but it is a well-rounded, richly textured story about not only one man’s insane drive to kill, but the effect he had on those people and institutions that were trying to catch him.
From the outset, “Zodiac” is presented as if we were observing a chronological police case file, with typed in subtitles of dates and times that events occur. The visual style is apparent immediately from the first sequence where the Zodiac shoots his first victims in a quiet parking lot. There is a yellowish hue that glows through the frame which makes for an unsettling atmosphere which permeates the rest of the film. Fincher’s use of colour, production design and shot framing is exquisite, perfectly recreating the time periods in question with a true authenticity.
As the Zodiac serial-killings become apparent, the story presents the limitations of police investigation at the time. Different police from different jurisdictions rarely spoke to one another, and did not extend helping hands if they felt they were not shown the same in kind. One great scene involves two policemen communicating with each other over the phone and attempting to negotiate for each other’s evidence, only to run in to the problem of not having the technology available (in this case a telefax) to instantly transmit the relevant files so it can make a difference to the investigation in the time frame allowed.
Running side-by-side with the police investigation is the involvement of the media, where Zodiac sends his taunting letters to newspaper editors to get his Zodiac puzzles and ciphers published. A moral dilemma ensues as they are not sure whether to print his letters or not; if they do not, the Zodiac may make good on his threat to kill more people but if they do, they could be setting a dangerous precedent for copycat behaviour. In the end, this exposure to the media ultimately brings in San Francisco Chronicle Cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) in to the investigation who becomes immediately fascinated by the case and ultimately picks up where the police left off in an attempt to find the man behind Zodiac.
Performances all round are excellent, with the possible exception of Jake Gyllenhaal who is playing his character like a lost, wild-eyed kid rather than the more go-getter personality of the real life person upon which his character is based. Mark Ruffalo is excellent as the police detective David Toschi in charge of the investigation in San Francisco, as is Robert Downey Jr. who plays the unpredictable but brilliant reporter Paul Avery who inserts himself in to the hunt for the Zodiac, much to the chagrin of the police, when he becomes a target himself.
If there were anything to criticise about “Zodiac” it would be its pacing and length. The film does take its time getting from A to B but in some sense this plays in to the style Fincher is after, given the police procedural nature of the plot. Perhaps a shorter running time would have rectified the pace issue, but at two and a half hours, it does feel a little long in the tooth, even though what is presented is quite fascinating.
“Zodiac” is another solidly crafted film from David Fincher. With a strong story, brilliant execution and a fascinating real-life subject, the film makes for some great viewing, despite being a little too long and slow in pace.
Considering the digital filming and finishing of Zodiac, the video transfer is something of a disappointment, with notable film grain and scratches, particularly at the beginning of the film. It appears this DVD was transferred from a film print which is sub-par for a film that was filmed and completed digitally. The audio transfer is much better, making full use of the surroundings to create an eerie and authentic atmosphere. Overall, the transfer is decent, but loses a lot of points for the video not being transferred from its original digital source.
This single disc edition only has one major extra which is a 27 minute behind the scenes documentary which offers some good material on the making of the film as well as the original case of the Zodiac. The documentary contains detailed interviews with cast, crew, director David Fincher and the original people involved in the case including police and reporters from the various jurisdictions that the murders took place. There are also three trailers, including one for a director’s cut DVD of Zodiac, and film trailers of 300 and Blood Diamond. It would have been better to have had more material like a director’s commentary but for a single disc edition it’s not too bad.
Worth having in the collection.
For the complete, original DVD review, click this link: http://www.allaboutmovies.net/dvdreviewzodiac.htm
Alex DeMattia is the lead DVD reviewer at the film/DVD review web site http://www.allaboutmovies.net