On December 20th, 1968, Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau are shot. Darlene dies and Mike lives. Seven months later, the San Francisco Chronicle receives a letter in which the writer claims he is Darlene's killer and intends to kill again. This letter would not only terrify the public, but would start an obsession for four men. This obsession would ruin marriages and careers. For the next two decades, these four men were fixated on one question, one that would never be completely answered, a question that may, within itself, be just as dangerous as finding the answer: Who is the Zodiac?
Zodiac is a superb film that is as realistic and authentic as a film based on actual events film can be. It is filled with characters who can only be inspired by actual people. The film boasts an excellent cast, with every actor contributing scintillating performances. Robert Downey, Jr., is charismatic and quirky as Paul Avery, bringing this character to life, as the audience witnesses his descent from a funny and brilliant ace reporter to a practically unemployable alcoholic. Anthony Edwards is pensive and understated as the cop who cannot handle the pressure of an unsolved case. Mark Ruffalo's Detective Dave Toschi is a determined and streetwise cop whose frustration almost consumes him, as each lead produces insufficient evidence to charge a suspect. Finally, Jake Gyllenhaal's Robert Graysmith is funny and heartwarming as the cartoonist-turned-amateur-sleuth, who comes the closest to solving the crime.
The director, David Fincher, is masterful at bringing the dark and macabre to the screen and he does not disappoint with Zodiac. The attacks are not as dark or elaborate as those seen in his previous film, Se7en, yet the director still manages to portray each murder as cold, callous, and shocking. The story is brilliantly told in chronological order, starting with the first victims. We see what starts off as a routine murder investigation grow out of control, as two detectives and two reporters become consumed by the hunt for the Zodiac murderer. These four stories are presented in a way that seems believable and genuine. Their obsession seems to leap off the screen and touch its audience. As the film progresses, the viewer also becomes obsessed with the pursuit of the killer. However, this pursuit is not going to end with Harry Callahan shooting the killer dead. There is no neat Hollywood ending to this film; it will not answer all of your questions. In fact, you will find yourself asking that same question - Who is the Zodiac?
The DVD extras contain the usual mix of trailers, but it also contains a "featurette" on the making of the movie. Fincher fans will love this. If you are not convinced that Fincher strived to create a film that was both authentic and unbiased, you will be after watching this insight into his process. The Zodiac DVD is available for purchase on September 24th.
Peerless precision from Fincher.
I have seen it written that this film shows that Fincher has grown up! And whilst I understand that train of thought, it simply isn't true. What Fincher has done is give a true story his meticulous care and standard deft precision by leaving no stone unturned. We get simply one of the (if not thee) best films to deal with the investigating process of a high profile serial killer, a film that as a character study is actually essential cinema in this viewers humble and honest opinion.
The beauty of this film is in the fact that it can't pay off with a pandering mainstream ending, the makers are telling a true story and any sort of research will lead viewers to the fact that there is no twist here, no joyous ticket selling round of applause at this ending, it is what it is, frustratingly brilliant. The case the film is about consumes all involved with it, and to see how it affects those involved is wonderful (yet sad) because if the viewer is so inclined to jump on board then it will consume you as well, the film and the actors within demand you see this for the affecting character piece it is.
The acting here gives me hope that classic acting is alive and well in this generation, I was once not enamoured with Mark Ruffalo in his early days as an actor, but here he puts such heartfelt verve into the role of David Toschi I feel I need to send him a written apology! Roberet Downey Junior is joyous as Paul Avery, all 60s chic and swagger without tipping over the edge of the mountain caricature. Yet surprisingly to me I find that it is Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith who is the film's axis, its central heartbeat, a performance that demands undivided attention, a performance brought about by Fincher's quest for perfection from everything to do with film making. Gyllenhaal hated working on the film, he hated Fincher's work ethic, but in time he will look back and see that here the director coaxed out a performance that will in time be seen as great.
This is not Se7en 2, and British film mags like Empire should know better than to use that tag line to get the readers' attention, because fans of serial killer thrillers need not apply here, fans of outstanding cinema about the human psyche during the pursuit of a serial killer? Well get in line folks, for this is one of the best movies of 2007. 10/10
on 30 September 2008
A simply fantastic film and the HD transfer is demo worthy the directors cut adds to the film without making it drag. You simply can't get much more classy than this film and disc, the extras are fantastic too but the one stand out extra has to be the "this is the zodiac speaking" documentry this runs at about 90 mins and features interviews with all the surviving people from the real zodiac case and some great crime scene photos and archive footage. A film you'll never forget, within minutes of watching it you'll be on the internet trying to solve the case yourself and straight back to amazon to buy the books. I can not recommend it enough a real 5 star effort
on 20 October 2008
The long-delayed Director's Cut of David Fincher's "Zodiac" is finally with us and there is good news and bad news; the bad news is that the new scenes barely amount to five extra minutes in a 2 1/2 hour movie and some of the additional scenes are so brief you'll hardly notice them. Now to the good news; don't be put off by the very short new scenes that have been added, the documentaries and commentaries in this 2-disc set more than make up for it. On the DVD cover, the blurb says that the documentaries are "exhaustive" and, for once, the finished product lives up to the hype.
There is a feature-length documentary about the crimes themselves featuring fascinating, detailed interviews with the surviving victims of the Zodiac killer and the real detectives who worked the case (they look directly into camera as they recall the horrors of Zodiac's rampage and it pulls you into the story, Lake Berryessa victim Bryan Hartnell is unrecognisable now). You find out incredible details about how some detectives neglected to put crucial information in their reports and you hear officers openly contradicting one another about what happened. Essential viewing.
A second documentary is about the prime suspect in the case, it's called: "His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen." Even if Allen wasn't the Zodiac, he was one very sick puppy indeed. A quite terrifying individual. Again, this is worth a look. See it and make up your own mind about Allen's guilt or innocence.
There is also an in-depth "Making Of" documentary which details David Fincher's exhausting shooting style (Watch in amazement as he makes Jake Gyllenhaal do 38 takes of dropping a book on a car seat until he is satisfied. Stanley Kubrick would be proud of Fincher!)
The commentaries are also excellent. There is one with David Fincher himself and a second with "L.A. Confidential" writer James Ellroy, Robert Downey Jr, Jake Gyllenhaal and the writer and producer. They are, again, full of even more detail you didn't know before.
There are also some deleted scenes which are interesting.
Zodiac in any cut is a superb movie. If you know a fan of the film or someone who has an interest in the Zodiac case, this would make an ideal Christmas present for them.
on 27 May 2007
David Fincher's brave take on Robert Graysmith's book gets to grip with the obsessive complexity of the source, evoking its spirit through compelling analysis of the minutiae of the case. Those expecting a thrilling cat and mouse chase in the mold of Seven may be disappointed, but comparisons to Fincher's earlier classic are unfair. 'Zodiac' is as much about the mood of 1960s and 70s California as about the mystery itself, about the dying idealism of the principle characters and their belief in being able to solve the case. Like The Transamerica Pyramid, which we see in the process of construction, the Zodiac case goes to the heart of San Francisco's modern history. The architecture, clothing and technology of the period are much more than background in a film about police procedure. Progress is hampered by juristictional boundaries, lack of cooperation, and the absence of 'telefax'. Anthony Edward's stoic cop makes a succession of phone calls at one stage to various regional police departments to collect evidence, a lumbersome process reminding us of a world pre-internet and email. With is focus on procedure and character, Zodiac belongs to a tradition of films that could be said to have begun in the 1970s with Alan J Pakula's All the President's Men and The Parallax View, and continued more recently with Michael Mann's The Insider.
This could have been dull and plodding, but the director and cast manage to sustain interest and tension throughout. Very true to the facts - some would say constrained by them - the film tells the murders as they happened, refusing to sensationalise them. In some instances, this shows the killer to be quite clumsy and opportunist, not the dark genius that you might imagine. The film is not in awe of the killer's stealth, but shows how legal infrastructure and human failure conspired to prevent his capture. It is also a timely reminder how the oxygen of publicity both inspires murder and inhibits our ability to solve it.
Despite brilliant acting throughout, there are a couple of niggles in the characterisation that handicap this film slightly. Jake Gyllenhall's Robert Graysmith is not really relevant as a character until about half way through, and the film misses some fleshing out of his character to lend verisimility to his obsessive personality. We see his descent and near unravelling in the riddles of the case, but before we can be convinced of some inherant character trait that might explain his fixation. Likewise, Robert Downey Jnr - who is remarkably not irritating as the reporter Paul Avery - becomes fairly peripheral in this film. We are told of his extraordinary knowledge of the case, and we see his subsequent descent into alcaholism, but are we to assume the two are connected? His interest in the case is unclear - is it merely professional, or is it the root cause of his self-destruction? Some fleshing out here would have helped, despite the film already running into two and a half hours. The length has been criticised, but in my opinion the film stays engaging and tense until the end. Great stuff.
Once again I am tardy in writing a positive review about something I really enjoyed and trying to promote it to others, as I have owned this DVD for several years and watched it many times ! This exceptional film covers the significant period over which the true-life events instigated by the so-called 'Zodiac Killer' occurred; his serial-murdering took place in the Bay Area of San Francisco from the late 1960s.
Whilst some of the murders and abductions by the killer are depicted, it is essentially a drama focussing on the police/media actions and their emotions whilst investigating and covering the case. They have to battle a very elusive and cynical criminal, a lack of evidence, conflicting opinions on matters such as handwriting analysis (remember this is the 60s/70s, so no DNA or 'CSI' type stuff here !), minimal staffing and cumbersome officialdom since the crime areas occur in different police districts and hence liaison is essential, but woefully executed. Things start promisingly but rapidly deteriorate into something close to a shambles....
Directed by David Fincher, it is very low-key in the style of presentation yet contains many of the attributes in his equally excellent (and equally chilling) film 'Se7en'. Despite relatively subdued energy levels and a long running time it still succeeds in maintaining your attention and keeping you gripped. This is mainly due to it being very well structured and having a plethora of fine actors who literally ooze the drive, confusion and raw emotions which must have been present in the real-life personalities. The key players are Mark Ruffalo (more prominently) and Anthony Edwards, as the San Francisco-based murder detectives assigned to solving the case, along with Jake Gyllenhaal (more prominently) and Robery Downey Jr (in a somewhat 'real-life' portrayal !) as the 'San Francisco Chronicle' employees who are covering it (and often getting too involved !). The mood and acting qualities also contribute to the scenes where the various suspects are 'confronted' or investigated being full of menace and really quite chilling....
The superb production values and marvellous way the representation of the era being covered is executed are also key factors to how successfully you get immersed into the drama; you really feel you are watching events from that period, and Fincher's effort to achieve that are clear from the start with even the opening 'Paramount' logo being weathered and speckly - and the subsequent 'Warner' logo being the older, blurred, version ! Similarly, the Director's Cut version on the DVD which I have, is packaged to mimic the type of envelope and writing the 'Zodiac Killer' sent to the police and media when teasing them.
The movie is heavy on dialogue with minimal action (which is why the acting performances are so vital); it also includes many stunning panned/panoramic views of San Francisco and some very novel methods to depict time-passing. The presentation on DVD is superb, especially when upscaled; I am not convinced that getting it on Blu-ray would be necessary if you get the 2-disc DC DVD edition, as it reflects all the quality required for the subdued tones and overall darkness the movie contains, a perfectly adequate Dolby 5.1 soundtrack and it has all the Special Features.
Those Special Features include 2 x commentaries and a wealth of featurettes, with some very detailed feature-length documentaries, which run to nearly 3 hours.
If you like smouldering detective/crime dramas with an intense plot, excellent period production values and good acting this film is for you.
Lately I've been on a bit of a serial killer spree, checking out movies about/based on real-life serial killers and the times they were active.
So I was fully expecting to be blown away by "Zodiac," David Fincher's account of the Zodiac Killer (whom I had never heard of before). But Fincher's talents are drowned in a sea of minutial facts here, leading to an interesting but not very compelling narrative about a cartoonist who becomes obsessed with catching a serial killer. It doesn't help that most of the best actors are wasted.
In 1969, San Francisco Chronicle began receiving encrypted letters from a serial killer who called himself Zodiac, taking credit for past murders and mentioning his plans for future kills. Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is only a political cartoonist, but his knack for puzzles allows him to figure out the code that Zodiac is using. Despite not being taken seriously by his fellows, crime writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) begins to listen to his theories.
After three more killings, police detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is put on the case, and Zodiac begins threatening Avery, and even calls a celebrity lawyer on the radio. Then... he vanishes without a trace. But Graysmith remains obsessed with Zodiac's identity -- and when the killings and phantom calls begin again some years later, he contacts Toschi in hopes of finally identifying the serial killer.
David Fincher is an absolutely brilliant director, and he's clearly trying to do his best with this movie. But his talents seem to be squandered in this story, partly because it seems to rely so much on facts and a sense of realism. He is to be admired for sticking mostly to Graysmith's facts rather than wildly sensationalizing them... but that means that the movie has long stretches of quibbling over puzzles and inconsequential clues.
Realistic, yes. Fascinating... no. Honestly, the most intriguing parts of the movie are the parts that DON'T involve Graysmith -- the radio conversations, the murders, and Toschi's efforts to solve the case. It's made all the more intriguing because Fincher has Zodiac voiced by three different actors, spreading doubt through your mind about whether there is just one person or more than one.
But whenever the story swings back to Graysmith, any tension seems to just quietly leak out of the film. And since the movie's events take place over several years, the tension comes in very small bursts, spread very far apart, which only end up leading to an anticlimax of epic proportions.
Part of that is because Graysmith is just not a very interesting character -- for the first two-thirds of the movie, Jake Gyllenhaal does little except look doe-eyed and stare intently at papers. He seems like a cipher for the audience's participation. Marc Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. both do excellent jobs with their roles, although Downey is reduced to doing little except stomping around and drinking.
The normally brilliant Fincher seems to be on autopilot for much of "Zodiac," which has some glorious actors but a lead character who sucks the energy out of the film. Factually interesting, but kind of a drag to sit through.
on 29 April 2008
I was familiar with the Zodiac Killer case and with director David Fincher's previous work. So when I heard he was going to make a movie on this subject, I knew it was going to be good.
Taking Robert Graysmith's two books on the Zodiac case ("Zodiac" and "Zodiac Unmasked") and combining them into one film was always going to bloat the running time and make it very fact-heavy and that is what happened. This is not a criticism, I like films that take their time to get things right and films that force you to think. Like JFK, this is a story about a true crime that would need several viewings in order to disseminate all the information in it. I can understand that some younger people who don't watch movies made before 2000 might find this tough-going. It's probably because they don't read enough. The movie is really like reading a book and is paced like one of those paranoid 1970s movies, i.e. it's not a 90-minute pop video with dazzling editing like so many movies these days and it's a relief to see a movie that doesn't follow the herd. Also like 1970s movies, it has an ambiguous ending that would probably drive today's kids crazy as they're used to having everything simply wrapped up for them.
Director David Fincher uses three different actors to play the killer in each scene and it's an unusual and effective move to throw the audience off even further. Like all good directors, Fincher also expertly uses music to transport the viewer back to San Francisco in the late 1960s with the use of Donovan's haunting hippy song "Hurdy Gurdy Man" at the start and end of this movie. It's one of the best uses of music in any movie.
Graysmith's first book "Zodiac" deals with the original Zodiac killings and the hunt to find him. His second book "Zodiac Unmasked" really deals with Graysmith's obssession with the case years after most people have forgotten about it and the movie is kind of in two halfs, with each half being one of the books (Another of Graysmith's books about the unsolved murder of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane was made into the movie "Auto Focus" with Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe and it's worth checking out if you enjoyed this movie).
There is a long-delayed Director's Cut of this movie coming out. It was supposed to be released in January 2008, then it was postponed until April 2008, now for some reason it's been put back all the way to September 1st 2008. "L.A. Confidential" writer James Ellroy called Zodiac, "the best crime movie ever made." Praise indeed and Ellroy does a commentary on the Director's Cut DVD. So you may want to wait for that version to come out instead of buying this bare-bones release.
on 5 February 2008
I really enjoyed Zodiac. Although it does last for 2.5 hours, I honestly never felt bored, I was genuinely interested in the subject of the film. It can get slightly confusing at times as lots of new characters are brought in throughout, so it does require a lot of concentration on the viewers part.....anyone looking for a fast paced, gruesome thriller that doesn't tax the brain too much would probably switch this off after the first hour!
Jake Gyllenhaal and Anthony Edwards are great in this film, in fact the whole film is very well acted.....and the murder scenes had a very `real' feel about them without being overly gruesome, but at the same time I was quite disturbed by them. All in all I would definitely recommend Zodiac, if you're willing to concentrate for the 2.5 hours you won't be disappointed, it's a gripping true crime story.
This is one of my favourite films of the past twelve months - not because I have some morbid obsession with true crime, but because it's an excellent example of the slow-burn thriller. As we've come to expect from David Fincher, the film is stylishly shot with a sharp, punchy script and a terrific soundtrack, and features top-drawer performances from the whole cast. There are several moments (including the murders themselves) which will send shivers down your spine, but the actual investigation is equally tense, even though we all know there can be no conclusion as the killings are still officially unsolved. Fincher also spares some time to focus on the human cost to the journalists and policemen who become obsessed with catching the killer, and the limitations and frustrations of pre-computer murder investigations. The only minor criticism I have is that the number of unseen suspects, victims and witnesses named throught the film make it occasionally difficult to recall exactly who is who.
If you're the type who doesn't like to watch anything that requires actual thought or you're just looking for gore, avoid this like the plague. If you want an exceptional, intelligent thriller, you've found it.