An intriguing ongoing mystery that has its roots in the 60's
David Fincher is famous for struggling with Alien 3, his excellent Se7en and a poorer outing, certainly in my own opinion, Panic Room. Here though he takes the helm of an intriguing ongoing mystery that has its roots in the 60's. With his attention to detail he seems like the perfect choice to investigate the people behind the story which baffled so many for so long a period of time.
To start we have the brutal, cold-hearted shootings of a young couple, he's short, wearing layers of clothes to pad out his slight frame, she's young and playing away from her husband. Once parked in a well known area for lovers they are gunned down by a passing motorist; she dies instantly, the lover survives even though the killer comes back to blast him again just to make sure. It's a killing with no rhyme or reason, perhaps though it's the woman's husband out for revenge. It transpires that this is not the case, the killer identifies himself to the local radio station as Zodiac, he tells them where to find the bodies and he taunts the police department to catch him.
After sending cryptic letters to the San Francisco Chronicle he stumbles upon another young couple picniking in a country park. Again he taunts his victims, plays with them and after initially indicating that he will do them no harm the Zodiac killer satisfies his power hungry bloodlust, produces a bowie knife and robs these unfortunate souls of their blossoming relationship and their lives. Again although the male victim is repeatedly stabbed he survives, the same cannot be said though for his poor companion.
And so it progresses, Zodiac exacting his inhuman desires on people who for whatever reason cross his path, they and the authorities which pursue him are essentially his playthings, for him to do with as he pleases. Teasing the police, the newspapers and the general public with his escapades a multitude of characters over the years dedicate themselves to the task of identifying this unknown killer.
Ultimately this is what Zodiac is all about, unlike Se7en where the unfolding nature of the case is what draws the viewer in, here it is the characters and how they are absorbed by the Zodiac case, how they obsess over it and how it affects their lives. Initially we're introduced to the police officers who are investigating, David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, doing a sterling early Peter Falk Columbo impersonation) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). These two find themselves wrapped up in the case; it overtakes them both until ultimately it becomes too much for one then the other. They leave the case at different times almost drained as if the Zodiac has in fact taken something from them that cannot be replaced. Ruffalo and Edwards play their parts well showing at each stage the frustration which they are continually going through.
Alongside the officers we find a newspaper reporter, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), and the newspaper's cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) also becoming wrapped up in the case. For Avery this is initially just another crime case he has to report, for Graysmith he takes an interest in the cryptic clues which the Zodiac starts to send out; this story itself is based on Graysmith's book of the same name. Like the police officers before them they cannot help but be drawn into the mystery, cannot help but continually wonder who Zodiac is and why he is committing these heinous crimes. Before long though they too are affected and their personal lives deteriorate. To get the emotion of this across again it rests upon the actors presenting their individual stories. Like Ruffalo and Edwards, Downey and Gyllenhaal give exemplary performances. Anything less from these 4 main actors would be a complete disservice to the individuals who actually experienced the complete frustration during this part of their lives. Ruffalo and Downey are certainly the two to keep your eyes on here, it's not that Edwards and Gyllenhaal are bad in their respective roles ( I would have to suggest that it's Edwards best part to date ) it's just that you get a fantastic sense of utter frustration from the first two that their prey, helped to some degree by the system, eludes them every step of the way.
The actors are just one superb aspect of this movie though, the other is Fincher's direction. Claimed to be an obsessive himself he seems to have been the only logical choice for someone who has to explore the obsessions of others. His fine attention to detail is mentioned in the documentaries which follow; at one point having one thread removed from Zodiac's balaclava!. Fincher allows the film to naturally flow from scene to scene almost as though the camera and viewer are voyeurs on the unfolding events. As this investigation was set over a number of decades, never mind years, he again naturally shows the passage of time, the construction of the Transamerica Building for instance. He obviously has an understanding or at least an appreciation of the difficulties these men faced whilst trying to track down the Zodiac killer, how they became wrapped up in the case so deeply and how their own personalities led them to investigate this to the sufferance of all else. It comes across in his insistence that everything be as perfect as he could possibly imagine it. Of all his films, and I do love Se7en even after multiple viewings, I think this has to be his best so far.
When I sat down to watch Zodiac I expected another taught thriller along the lines of Se7en. True there are some horrifying murders on show especially at the start of the film, murders where you really do wince. The film evolves though, not to show yet more of this psychopath's activities, nor really to show the chase as they close in on potential suspects. What we get here is an investigation into the human condition of obsession, obsession from Zodiac's point of view in that he feels compelled not only to kill but to also suggest to the authorities who he is, as if he wants or needs to be caught. No not only that but how easy it is for any person to becomes infatuated with the smallest of things and how this can have a devastating effect on themselves and all around them.