Effectively Creepy and Engrossing True Crime Tale, 6 March 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
David Fincher has taken nearly five years off between films, and he has returned a more mature and accomplished director with his fascinating “Zodiac.” It may not reach the cult status of his “Seven” or “Fight Club” or find the box office success of “Panic Room,” but by many measures it may be his most carefully crafted film. More in line with the crime epics of directors like Michael Mann than with the typical serial-killer thriller, “Zodiac” is propelled by inventive direction, a great cast, engaging attention to detail, and a killer soundtrack of classic songs from the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
Based on the book by Robert Graysmith (played effectively here by Jake Gyllenhaal), “Zodiac” is meticulous in its details (both in dialogue and Fincher’s finely painted visuals) and sprawling in plot and its parade of intriguing characters. Mark Ruffalo is especially compelling playing the lead detective who becomes obsessed with the case, and Robert Downey Jr. does his best macabre comic relief job as the boozing and drugging reporter Paul Avery who was targeted for a brief time by the infamous killer. There’s also a fine supporting cast featuring Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, and John Caroll Lynch among many others, all doing top notch work.
Fincher’s digital VIPER camera lends itself surprising well to the period detail and look of the 1970’s. Though some of the more brightly lit shots aren’t as clear and in focus as you would like, this is the first movie I can think of shot on all digital where some of the cinematography could actually be called beautiful (check out any of the skyline shots and the great overhead of the Golden Gate Bridge). Fincher crafts some truly creepy moments using simple lighting techniques featuring characters hopping into strange cars on deserted highways, traipsing through dimly lit homes, or nervously making their way down a dark creaky staircase into a fathomless basement. There’s also some nice freak-out moments in the classy and sharply filmed murder scenes and when characters receive eerie phone-calls from the so-called killer or his equally sick copycats. I didn’t realize how effective Fincher’s technique was until I went home alone to my dark apartment and felt a sudden lump in my throat when a friend made an unexpected late night call.
There are times when the film becomes bogged down with police procedural aspects, and its epic runtime is apparent, though most of the slow parts still remain engrossing. Graysmith makes it clear who he thinks the killer was, though the case was officially unsolved. When all the pieces finally fit together, the audience feels the same sickening giddiness as Graysmith and the detectives long plagued by the cryptic case that held much of San Franciso hostage knowing that the prime suspect will never be convicted on so much circumstantial evidence. In the end, Fincher leaves you with some haunting feelings, and if anything is certain, it’s that Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” will never be listened to the same again.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database