CAPSULE: The unsolved case of the "Zodiac" serial killer is the basis of David Fincher's thriller, based on a book by one of the unofficial participants in the investigation. This is the story of the investigation that stretched over decades. The investigation and the film are both long and the final conclusion the film reaches is dubious. Still, it makes for a tense if grim true-crime thriller. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
In the ten months from December 1968 to October 1969 a flamboyant serial killer preyed on the San Francisco Bay area. He wrote letters to the newspapers, often including codes as puzzles to be solved promising clues to his identity. In spite of the clues he sent taunting the police, the case still remains officially unsolved. Robert Graysmith, at the time of the murders a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, became fascinated with the case. He himself was an avid puzzle solver and so was intrigued first by the newspaper puzzles the killer wrote and later by the larger puzzle of who the killer actually was. Graysmith eventually wrote two flamboyant books recounting his own investigation and that of the police, all leading up to his theory of the identity of the killer. This film is based on his book ZODIAC. From the point of view of the film, he had almost entirely solved the case, but frustratingly no action was taken. It should be remembered, however, how many different books there are about the Kennedy assassination, each with different theories of who was behind the killing. Britain has the same phenomenon with the Jack the Ripper killings. Many experts point in different directions. Graysmith's solution may well be the most popular, but it is still a matter of speculation. Of interest is that this is the second crime film based on a Graysmith book. He also wrote the book AUTO-FOCUS about the murder of actor Bob Crane that was made into a film of the same name.
Director David Fincher previously made the horrific serial killer film SE7EN. Here he is more limited in how he can portray the killer, since he cannot show any unmasked character as obviously being the killer. So this film is less like SE7EN and at least a bit more like IN COLD BLOOD. The film concentrates on the investigation and on the effects that the presence of a serial killer has on the people directly involved and the general public. The film is 158 minutes long, and yet the viewer learns little about any character but Graysmith (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). The young Graysmith clearly would like to get the job of working with the investigation, but that dubious honor is given to reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) whom Graysmith sees as a weak man and who is eventually thrown off the paper for his drinking and his irresponsibility. Though Avery helps and is helped by Graysmith, Graysmith seems to have little respect for Avery.
Mostly the film is all about the private and public investigations. During the course of the film Graysmith meets Melanie (ChloŽ Sevigny), whom he marries, but we see little of the romance or the marriage. That would take too much time from the story of the investigation. We do see that later Melanie had problems with the amount of time and personal sacrifice that Graysmith puts in on his obsession with the killer. Officially on the case are police inspectors David Toschi and William Armstrong, played respectively by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards. Mostly the film is about the frustration of the investigation and what it does to the men working on the case. With both the police and with Graysmith the viewer follows a lot of blind alleys and false leads. Questions raised in the film are never answered. The puzzle-solving aspect of the film is of interest, but we see a lot of investigators going through what has to be drudgery in the investigation with a stupefying volume of evidence. Arguably the film did not need its length and could have been cut down to a more standard length with just an allusion or two to some of the wasted effort. Instead it become an exhausting experience for the viewer.
This film is a dark and atmospheric account of the efforts to capture a man who could strike nearly anywhere and disappear. Perhaps that makes the film particularly relevant right now. I give ZODIAC a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. One point I did notice, though it was never mentioned in the film. Zodiac was apparently a weekend killer. Every date given for a killing was a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Add that to the list of clues that point nowhere.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0443706/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper