A crude letter to the editor arrived at the San Francisco Chronicle in August 1969, claiming to be from a killer who had just murdered what were the first of several victims - and he wanted it published. The paper's cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) was immediately hooked by the case, as were his colleague, the paper's star crime reporter, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr), Homicide Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Inspector William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). As the killer, Zodiac he called himself, sent more letters claiming more murders, the determined hunt by police was getting nowhere, except circumstantial evidence. As years went by, one by one, the police and Avery all moved on - but not Greysmith, whose obsessive private sleuthing was destroying his marriage - even as it was leading him towards a witness who had already been discounted.
Review by Louise Keller:
The fact that it lacks sensationalism works in its favour, and David Fincher presents an intriguing and intelligent puzzle of a film about a serial killer that allows us to peek into the process of police procedure. Filled with drama and tension, two homicide detectives, a crime journalist and a cartoonist become obsessed about an unsolved case that somehow worms itself into their lives. There are revelations, frustrations, fastidious details, red herrings and a tangible human cost when it comes to lives and relationships. The cutting edge of the story is that it is not fiction and James Vanderbilt's absorbing screenplay of Robert Graysmith's book never lets up as it leads us through a prism of obsession.
We get a taste of how the murderer works as he targets lovers, a couple picnicking by the lake and a cab driver. There are clues, partial prints, handwriting samples and symbols to de-cypher. Children who see the man's face describe him as looking 'normal'. He is so close, yet so far, and as every tip and clue is pursued, the case reaches stale mate. But it is the key players that suck us in and hold our interest. Mark Ruffalo, excellent as the homicide detective who lives and breathes his job; Robert Downey Jnr as the flamboyant journalist with vices; Jake Gyllenhaal as the serious cartoonist who becomes obsessed. The script is serious, but is never bogged down by irrelevant pedantics. There is light relief at the most unexpected of times, when behaviour or conversation become absurd, like the scene when Gyllenhaal's Graysmith enlists his three young children to assist him to research facts and dates of the Zodiac's activities.
Zodiac concentrates on the process and the detail is fascinating. Lives unravel, relationships fall by the way and the pulse to hone in on the Zodiac killer never abates. There may not be a pat ending, but the canvass and characters displayed are sprawled out for discerning observation and appraisal. Intense and engrossing, this is a mature and complete piece of cinema that like the zodiac, comes full circle.
Published September 27, 2007
Email this article
ZODIAC: DVD (MA)
CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloe Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John terry, Candy Clark, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Donal Logue, June Raphael, Pell James, Philip Baker Hall,
PRODUCER: Cean Cheffin, Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, James Vanderbilt
DIRECTOR: David Fincher
SCRIPT: James Venderbilt (novel by Robert Graysmith)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Harris Savides
EDITOR: Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
MUSIC: David Shire
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Donald Graham Burt
RUNNING TIME: 157 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 19, 2007
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: September 26, 2007