Sunday, March 04, 2007

Zodiac


Just about the only beef I had heard going in to David Fincher's fantastic "Zodiac" is that, at 2 hours and 40 minutes, it's simply too long. Coming out, however, I couldn't think of one thing I would have cut from his best film yet.

In structure and tone, Fincher's true-crime saga about the pursuit of the Zodiac killer that terrorized California in the late '60s and '70s reminded me of "Prime Suspect" - sans, of course, Dame Helen Mirren.

Like that great BBC series, Fincher's movie takes an entirely nonslick view of police procedures. In this case, we get to feel all the frustrations as the two main cops, Mark Ruffalo (huzzah!) and Anthony Edwards (a pleasant surprise) chase down all the leads they can find and come tantalizingly close to their target.

Also like "Prime Suspect," the flick is as much a character study as it is a true-crime movie, and here Fincher has three actors up to his exacting standards in Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. Ruffalo, who I've liked ever since he made his debut in "You Can Count on Me," has been coasting for years now through a series of likable enough romantic comedies, but here Fincher gives him a well-rounded character to dig into, and he take full advantage (aside: watch for him soon with Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi in Rian Johnson's heist flick "The Brothers Bloom," which has me jazzed even though it's only in preproduction now.)

And just as the Zodiac killer frustrated the cops, he also played games with the media, issuing his missives in code that he demanded be printed in newspapers. Fincher's newsroom (the San Francisco Chronicle) has a real "All the President's Men" feel to it (and, this being the '70s, were talking about white men here.) Downey plays boozy crime reporter Paul Avery, who put himself in the middle of the story, with just enough slime to make him believable. And Gyllenhaal, as the Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, really gets to play the part of Fincher himself.

It was Graysmith's obsession with the Zodiac killer that led him to write the book Fincher's movie is based on, and this obsession makes the final act of the flick the most satisfying. Graysmith's - and Fincher's - hunger for the truth also makes this, for me, Fincher's best movie by far. Even without the illusion of fantasy, he manages to make the Zodiac killer a much more frightening boogeyman than he's come up with in the past.

As I read the closing titles, I found myself laughing. Inappropriate, perhaps, after watching the true story of a multiyear killing spree, but I couldn't help myself. I was laughing because I couldn't quite believe that Fincher had really pulled this off. That he actually put together all the pieces of this intricate puzzle and still managed to make such an entertaining movie. It's a real coup.

P.S. - If I have the time, and I think I will, I'll be going to see Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan" later today, so please feel free to check back for a review Monday morning.

17 comments:

james higham said...

When the subject is gripping and the characters rivetting, we never wnat it to end.

Reel Fanatic said...

You're definitely right there, Mr. Higham ... He apparently cut close to another 40 minutes or so at the studio's insistence, so I'll be curious what becomes of it on DVD

renee said...

Loved the film too. It is long, but it never feels too long. I'm still thinking about it, but I don't think Jake Gyllenhaal totally worked for me in his part. His "goofiness" kind of came and went, I think. I still enjoyed it and I thought it was a good performance, but not a great performance, like most of those around him. What a great cast!

* (asterisk) said...

I will definitely be watching this, since I am one of those Fincher geeks you mentioned. I also really like the Ruffalo and think he's usually seriously underused. Good review. I'm psyched.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think you're right that of the big three in this one, Renee, Jake was the weak link, but he certainly wasn't bad in the part ... From what I've read, Fincher put them through at least 10 and often many more takes for each scene, so perhaps he can be forgiven a little inconsistency

Divinity said...

It's definitely on my to-see list. I've been impressed so far this year with some of the projects coming to the big screen. It seems like originality/effort has come back into style.
Jake's interview with Jon Stewart last week was quite amusing, btw. I'm sure you could catch it on-line.
Great review, as always!

Justin said...

It's a great movie and I'm happy I made the effort to catch it in the theatre. Suspense, character work, bits of humor...that's how you make a movie. Can't wait to see what Fincher does with "Benjamin Button."

Reel Fanatic said...

Benjamin Button just sounds like a total trip, Justin, so like you I just can't wait to see what Fincher comes up with

jeremy said...

So I heard somewhere that Fincher was affected in some way by the Zodiac killer. I know he spent some of his youth in Marin County, CA, but I can't seem to find any connection.
Have you heard anything similar?

Reel Fanatic said...

I read an article in the New York Times that mentioned that it happened when he was a kid in California, Jeremy .. Although it wasn't exactly in his hometown, it clearly was something that has stuck in his mind all this time

Marina said...

Must make time to see this over the next couple of days.
Must.

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Like Prime Suspect? Then I'll defintely have to see it.

Philip J. Fry said...

Man though I disagree with you about Black Snake Moan. I feel like you nailed it here. I wrote a review on my blog for this film we speak on a few of the similar themes. I agree this is Fincher's best film to date. And I hope a sign of things to come. If you don't mind drop by my blog and leave a comment or 20.

www.planetexpressdeliveryservice.blogspot.com

Even if you don't I'll keep readin' man. I dig what you do here.

Reel Fanatic said...

I definitely will stop by, Mr. Fry ... it will give me something to do later today when I'm supposed to be working!

cinderelly said...

i did like this movie, even though it WAS very long. the zodiac was our 'boogieman' when i was a kid, and i too, liked (very much!) the way it wrapped up. all the characters were played very well. thanks for looking at my blog, and leaving a commment! i find your's interesting, and will be back to read your thoughts on movies!

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, Cinderelly .. Being an east coast kid when the Zodiac was on his killing spree, I didn't have that real connection to the story, but Fincher brought it to life for me in a big way

Anonymous said...

Hey, landed on your blog, nice stuff. I found a cool new tool for our blogs... www.widgetmate.com It helps get latest news for our keywords directly on to our blog. I added it on mine. Worked like a charm.