“I am not Avery”
Two David Fincher films in two years? Is that even possible? With The Curious Case of Benjamin Button finishing filming this year for a 2008 release, we get the director’s sixth film, Zodiac. While we do get some vintage Fincher style throughout the proceedings, this is very different from his other movies. As much a real life story film as one can be, Zodiac goes through the years chronicling the hunt for the serial killer that got away. There isn’t the graphic gore quality we’ve become accustomed to with Seven and Fight Club, but instead a taut thriller that keeps the viewer on edge, not knowing what bit of history would be coming at them next. Usually this type of film bores me, especially being one I know going in that the killer is never caught, yet Fincher really has control of the pacing and delivers one of the fastest three hour movies I’ve seen in awhile.
Our main entry point into the story lies with cartoonist Robert Graysmith, the man whose books the film was based on, played perfectly by Jake Gyllenhaal. No one plays shy, boyish charm, naïveté like he does. What would seem strange casting for a man who ends up devoting his life to finding out who the Zodiac was, Gyllenhaal ends up being the only choice you can think of once we find that Graysmith’s nickname, behind his back, is “retard.” He truly portrays the socially awkward, outcast Boy Scout we need to follow. Only a guy with his likeability and lack of ego could get as many people involved in the case to help him find the material he needed.
Besides Gyllenhaal though, we have a stellar supporting cast. Every frame that passes brings us another cameo from a known actor. Sure comedies of late have been cameo vehicles, but this one seems to have had Hollywood knocking on Fincher’s door to be included. From non-existent parts by Adam Goldberg, and recognizable faces Tom Verica and Jimmi Simpson, to small roles from Dermot Mulroney, Elias Koteas, and Brian Cox, we have a non-stop who’s who of acting talent. Fincher must have been a big “24” fan as well casting Paul Schulze in a real bad wig as a witness for the cops’ main suspect in the case, Arthur Leigh Allen, (played with scene-stealing ability by John Carroll Lynch). There are a couple nice meaty roles to go with the cameos led by the always fantastic Robert Downey Jr. It has been stated the Downey and Fincher butted heads a bit during filming—I mean this is Mr. Unpredictable Ad-lib working for Mr. Perfectionist shooting 25 takes of a one minute scene—but the result is great. Downey brings a comic relief that is needed amongst the violence and drama, yet also plays his descent into drugs and unreliability to perfection.
In the end, the real star of the film, in my opinion, becomes Mark Ruffalo. He plays Inspector David Toschi who truly becomes embedded into the case and never able to break free of it. Ruffalo can always play the regular guy in irregular situations without making it seem like acting. His reactions to Downey’s character’s misstep in info leaking are real, as is his passion and emotion during the course of secretly working with Graysmith during the last act of the film. Toschi is the man that I feel the audience can relate to most during the manhunt and I wish he had been given more of a central role to the movie.
Although the film is successful at telling the story of forty years of the Zodiac, the plethora of characters cause it to be a bit sprawling and unfocused. Graysmith wrote the story, and he is our lead, yet we lose him for a good hour of the film to follow the police/newspaper’s efforts at finding the killer’s identity. Sure Gyllenhaal is in the background often, but sometimes you wonder where he went and once you get comfortable with Ruffalo being in charge, back comes Jake to take the lead again. It almost feels like two films cut together as a whole. Not to say the editing is bad because in actuality the film is real smooth transitionally. We are given snippets that are pertinent to the eventually findings by Graysmith and Toschi, and never more than necessary. When it comes to movies on a strict timeline, this is one of the best.
I feel that Fincher could have had another masterpiece, but just couldn’t commit to one viewpoint. He definitely did his research into the case and jam packed details wherever he could. However, the tagline for the film is “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer” and yet it was never really taken to the next level. Sure we see the strain the case has on Ruffalo, Gyllenhaal, and Anthony Edwards’s family life, but on second thought, do we really? Edward’s family is never shown and he eventually quits the case, Ruffalo’s wife is supporting to the fullest and he remains balanced for perpetuity; even Gyllenhaal’s Graysmith, so deep into his research that his family leaves him, never seems too upset about it. He is more, “I’ll take care of our problems once this is done,” and doesn’t really seem to care that he has been left. So, basically in effect, rather than a character piece on how the case effects those involved, we get a strict thriller on the hunt for a killer.
Yes, it is not Fincher’s best, but as a film it is effective. We get some nice flourishes with the camera (the opening pan with stationary camera through car window, overhead/bird’s eye following of cars, and a gorgeous sequence traveling over the fog engulfed bridge of the poster) and some great acting, just nothing really special, screaming out at us to see its importance. Also, where was the Fincher-staple creative credit sequence? All in all Zodiac ends up being an enjoyable ride, that, if nothing else, whets your appetite for more darkness to come from his singular mind.
Zodiac 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
(Is it just me or was there a very odd cut during the Dirty Harry sequence? Ruffalo leaves the theatre for the lobby and Gyllenhaal watches his exit. We have a quick edit to Jake and Chloë Sevigny driving in their car, which then cuts back to the theatre for a meeting between Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo. So did Jake leave the theatre and come back? Is this a weird editing error? Or am I missing a profound purpose for this continuity break? Please shed some light if you know.)
 Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith in David Fincher movies Zodiac – 2007
 A scene from crime, drama, thriller Paramount Pictures’ Zodiac – 2007
 Robert Downey Jr. (right) in Paramount Pictures’ Zodiac – 2007