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Zodiac(2007)

December 5, 2012

(This post is being published for  Scenes of the Crime Blogathon under category Police Stories and Private Eyes.  David Fincher brings in an All the President’s Men style realistic narration to this serial killer tale. Unlike Se7en’s more frenetic, visual style, this runs along at a more leisurely pace, slow, taking in the scenes.  But worth a watch due to the character build up, narration and shot taking).

I like killing people because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest, because man is the most dangerous animal of all. To kill something is the most thrilling experience. It is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl. The best part of it is that when I die, I will be reborn in paradise and all that I have killed will become my slaves. I will not give you my name because you will try to slow down or stop my collecting of slaves for my afterlife.

Zodiac is  David  Fincher’s  second  shot  at  the  serial killer  genre,  after  Se7en,  the  similarities end  there. In fact  the movie itself  has  hardly  any  resemblance to  most of  Fincher’s  movies,  before and after.  Unlike Fincher’s  standard frenetic  visual  style, with cross cuts, zooms  and  rapid  editing,  Zodiac  ambles  at  a leisurely  pace,  taking it’s own sweet time to get to the point. Zodiac owes  more  to  movies like  All The President’s  Men, with it’s  documentary  style  realism,   large  amount of  conversation,  heavy  emphasis  on procedure  and detail.  Which is where  i think  the movie suffered with  critics  and  audiences.  People  went  to Zodiac,  expecting to see   Se7en, Version 2.0, only here it  was not even  close to  Se7en, it  was  not  even  like  most other  serial killer  movies. Se7en a great movie,  was pretty much an adrenaline pumping thriller,  that  was  much more visually stylish.   Ok you can go into all the philosophical ramblings  about  John Doe being  inspired  by  the  7 Deadly Sins, and  the lone crusader trying to  clean up the world  theories, but end of  day, it  was  an  action thriller  that  had all the  right  ingredients  in  place-  two cops, one hot headed, the other one  more calmer  and wiser,  a  diabolical  serial killer  with his own “You hate it or love it” agenda,  chase scenes, thundering music, cops running around, police sirens and top it off  with  a devilish twist.  Add  to it  Brad Pitt, an ever reliable  Morgan Freeman, and the mix  was too good to resist.
Also  unlike  Se7en’s  more  fictional setting  and storyline, Zodiac  was  based on a true  life serial  killer, in the San Francisco  area, who  had  terrorized  the  citizens  in the early 70′s.   To date it  still  remains one of  the  unsolved cases in  the  Police files, with no one sure of the killer’s  identity. I think this  was  the  reason why  Fincher  adopted a  radically different  style  from Se7en,  in  fact here  not  much is known of  the killer. Even the man  suspected of  being  the  killer, remains  only  a  suspect.  In many ways  Fincher  stays  true to the original source material  the book written by  Robert  Graysmith,  the  San Francisco  based political cartoonist  who had covered the case  extensively.  The focus in the movie is more on the protagonists,  covering  the  case,  and  how it  affects  them  emotionally.
The  movie  starts  off   in  a    typical Fincher  style,  covering  the first  murder.  Here it is of  a young couple , Darlene  and Mike  at  a lovers lane in Vallejo.   Again loved  here, the  way  Fincher  sets up the entire murder, Mike first  noticing someone  tailing them, Darlene  initally  not too concerned, slowly  beginning to be  scared.   Fincher,  wonderfully builds up  the  tension here,  cutting between the  faces of the couple, the trailing headlights and the speedometer  going  faster.  The  cat  and  mouse  game  the  pursuing car  plays out,  is  tension filled, especially the moment  when  the  couple  seemingly  relieved  that  he has left, suddenly  find the lights switched on.  The  shooting is  quite brutal,  and unsettling. And  then the  voice of the killer,  informing the cops of the murder.
Fincher  again shows  his penchant  for  visual  imagery,  with  the  camera  tracking the  mailman, going into the  different  levels  of  the  San Francisco  Chronicle office,   especially the way  he  keeps  zooming in on the latter’s bag, as he delivers  the  mail.  This is  where  we  come  across  the  main players  in the  entire  drama,  Paul Avery( Robert Downey  Jr), the  crime  reporter  and  Robert  Graysmith(  Jake Gyllenhall) the  political cartoonist.  Many have complained about Zodiac  being too wordy, but  for  me it  was  the  dialogues that actually  built up the characters  and the story.   In this scene,  the  chitchat  between  Paul  and Robert,  drops  in hints  about the latter, his  troubled  relationship with  his  wife,  and  his lack of  satisfaction with his present job.  But  again  while wondering about why  Fincher  keeps the camera zooming in on the  mail bag, we get the answer, when the now  empty mail bag comes to  the publisher, he  picks up a special letter, and then  his eyes going wide  as he  reads  it.
Sheer visual brilliance here by  Fincher, if  we observe the scene,  throughout  while zooming  on the mail bag, the focus is on a special letter,  and  we get to see why.  Again here  Graysmith’s  feelings  are  shown,  when he is  looking at  the group  of  people in animated  discussion through  the  glass panel.  The  letter is  from the  Zodiac  killer, where he  claims  responsibility  for  the  murders  of  the couple  we had seen in the opening scene,   and asks  the  paper to print  a cipher of  his on  the  opening  page.   But  more  interesting here  than  the  killer  and  the  motivations,  is  the  way Graysmith  manages  to squeeze into the entire  affair.  While  Avery is the obvious  star of the  newspaper, Graysmith  wants  to be a part of  what he  sees  as  the  real  action, the crime department.  It is  clear  that  he is not  taken seriously,  as  the  Editor  exclaims  “Remind me  again, what  the cartoonist is doing here?”. At once the pecking order  in the  media hierarchy is established, where  cartoonists  are the funny men, somewhere at the lower end, not to be taken too seriously.

These books  are amazing. You know who  was the last guy to commit murders and then write the press  about them was? Who  actually  taunted  the  public? They still didn’t  know  his real name, but  they called him Jack the Ripper.

Independent of  the  paper he works  for  Graysmith  now begins  to  conduct  his own private investigation,  using the Cipher symbol  that  the  killer  has sent.   Again as  the camera  cuts  from  Graysmith’s   home to  groups of  Feds, Naval officials, CIA  agents  trying to make  some sense of the symbol,  we  see  Graysmith now, poring over the books, studying on serial killers, much to the  surprise  of  his two sons. The reference to  Jack the  Ripper  was  quite interesting,  apart  from  the  fact  that  this  to date remains one of  the unsolved  mysteries  of  the crime world.   Again one of  the best moments  comes in the movie when  Avery  informs   Graysmith, that  a  history teacher  cracked the code , and they meet in office to discuss  it.  That  is  when  Avery  hints  at  Graysmith’s  obsessive  nature,  also  giving us  more  insights  into the differences  between  the two men,  Graysmith  a voracious  reader, highly  knowledgeable, Avery not much into reading.   While  Avery  feels  that Graysmith is  obsessed,  the latter feels he is only  passionate about  something  he  is  interested  in.
Zodiac  for  sure is  a  talky movie, pretty much in the  lines  of   Clerks  and  Glen Garry, Glen Ross,  but  what many overlooked  here,  was  the  fact that  the  entire  dialogues  were  what  set  up  the  whole  story, the characters of  Avery  and   Graysmith, the latter’s  obsessive  nature,  and  of  course  the   media  hierarchy.   The  editor  just  can’t  take it  that a  mere  cartoonist  like  Graysmith could  actually  take  an interest  here,   Avery  wants to be  away  from the case,  but  as he  has  to cover it,  he has to be  close. So  where  Avery  and  Graysmith  here, the wrong  men in the wrong  place, or  the  archetypal   square pegs in the round hole?
The second murder in the movie, where  another  couple  Cecilia  and  Bryan are hacked to death by the Zodiac killer  is  as gruesome  as  the first.  Again the  way the couple is  ambushed, held up, hacked to death, the  terror filled  screaming face of  Cecilia,  is  quite  unsettling.    The  terror here shows  up  in the  blood  flecks on the girl’s  face, her  incessant  screaming out,   and  then Bryan’s  bloodied  face, looking at Cecilia being hacked to death, whew.  Again the  scenes  following  it  make  up  for  one of  the movie’s  best  part,   Graysmith going  through  the code,  the  description of the killer’s  costume,  and  then the  reference   to  the  movie adaptation of  the  “Most  Dangerous  Game in the World”. The  following  intercutting sequences  of  Credence Clearwater’s  Bad  Moon Rising song,played out over montages  of  the  police chief  advising  people not to venture out  after  dark, lovers to neck at home, is one piece of delicious  irony.   I  say  ironical, because  just  as the song  ends, along with the montage of  images,  a  cab driver, on whose  radio the song has been playing is  shot  dead. Another  victim of  the  Zodiac killer.
Which is where  we  are  introduced  to  the  other  2  characters  in  the  story, the  irritable  and grumpy  San Francisco  detective  Dave  Toschi( Mark Ruffalo) and his partner  Bill Armstrong.  As they investigate  the  murder of the cab driver,  the  focus  goes onto  a hand print, and  then again  the next  mail to  the  newspaper.  For the first time, we see the  cops working in tandem  with  the  newspaper  to crack the case. Not  really sure  when  was the last time i saw  a movie, which had  the cops  and  media working together to solve  a case, most of the times  they are generally at loggerheads.  The  only  person  who  seems to have the  dope on the  case  seems  to  Graysmith, but  again  his  status  as a  cartoonist,  prevents  the  cops  from  taking  him too seriously.
Zodiac to me  would  remain  David  Fincher’s   finest  work  as a  movie director,  it  was  an uncharacteristic  attempt by him, moving  away  from his usual  hyper kinetic  style  to  a more measured  flow,  with a  rather  dry  documentary realism.  But  it  is in the  minute  character  studies,  that  Fincher  scores  overwhelmingly.  More  than   the  Zodiac killer,  it  is  the  character  of  Robert  Graysmith  that   is  intriguing.  Why  is  a mere  cartoonist  so  obsessed  about  the  case?  And if  he  loved  the crime  scene, why  did  he  end  up  as a  cartoonist? Toschi  is  the  equivalent of  him, a  gruff  cop,  obsessed with  the  case.  Another  great moment  in the movie, was  when both  Graysmith and Toschi have the  same  doubt  about  how the killer,  could know  what  dress exactly  the girl  was wearing?  Two men  in  different  fields,  yet  both  having  some kind  of  telepathic  resonance.   Again  the  next  scene  too, with  Avery and Graysmith   walking  down  talking about the killer, and  then both  Toschi  and  his  associate  Armstrong  having the same  discussion, which sounds  eerily  similar. Just  loved  that entire  sequence, where both  Graysmith  and  Toschi  keep  giving their own analysis of  the case, and both of them  sounding similar.
Unlike  Se7en  the  movie  does  not  have  any big  stars,  but  Jake  Gylenhall, Robert Downey  Jr  and Mark Ruffalo  are all  actors  with a  formidable body of work.   Jake  Glyenhall, who earlier  achieved  fame  for  Donnie  Darko,  was  not  one of  the  big  stars, but  as  the obsessed cartoonist  Graysmith,  he  pitches in an excellent performance.  This  was  a role of  a man,  obsessed  so much with what he loves, that  at times he  appears to be a  doppelganger of the Zodiac killer himself,  and  Glyenhall does full justice to the role.  Robert  Downey  Jr, to me remains one enigmatic  actor, much like  Val Kilmer, both men  immensely  talented, more often than not end  up  doing  real trashy stuff. Fortunately    he gets  a meaty role  here,  and  does  full justice to it.  The grumpy, irritable  cop  David Toschi  is a role  Mark Ruffalo could have done  in his sleep, considering  more often than  not he  ends up playing the grumpy young man, notwithstanding  his  rom coms.  While he  does go over the top in some scenes,  he  nonethless  manages to impress  later on, especially in the interrogation scenes.  The detailing  and art  direction  is  spot  on,  capturing the look and  feel  of  the  early 70′s, especially the large  cars, the costumes,  the  dim lit interiors, Fincher manages to capture the mood  well.
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4 Comments
  1. I loved this movie. Best serial killer film, at least in recent years. The Dahmer movie I thought was also particularly well done. Can't remember what it was called.

  2. This is very good movie..I love this damm movie..Actors has played brilliant role. Directed by David Fincher with John Terry , Felix J. Boyle. Watch Zodiac Online

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