movies, music and everything else

This blog is about pretty much what the title implies... movies, music and everything else.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Chronicle of an Obsession

Despite the marketing campaign, David Fincher’s newest film ZODIAC is not like his previous effort SE7EN. It is not a psychological thriller about a serial killer. ZODIAC is a movie about three people that became obsessed with hunting down the real identity of this infamous killer. If I were to compare ZODIAC to any other movie it would be the 1976 classic ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.
In the late 1960’s and into the 70’s, the Zodiac killer struck at random, teased the police that were tracking him, toyed with the press, and struck fear in the people of California and San Francisco in particular. This movie touches on the killer and what he does, but it centers on three people that become obsessed with finding out his identity and stopping him.
The first of these is reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) of the San Francisco Chronicle who is covering the case. He is drawn into the story when the Zodiac sends three letters to various local newspapers (the Chronicle being one of them) demanding that they print his coded message on the front page of their paper and if they fail to do so, he will kill more. This begins the Zodiac’s relationship with the press and the public. Avery develops an obsession with the case that contributes to his downward spiral personally.
Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is the lead homicide investigator on the Zodiac case. He and his partner William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) visit the scenes, put together the pieces and try everything to find the killer. Toschi is an “all-star” detective (who served as inspiration for the Steve McQueen character in BULLIT) who stops at nothing to exhaust all of the options and evidence in search of the killer.
The last of the three is cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) who also works at the Chronicle and is brought in through Avery. He is the “every man” who feels like he has to step up and do something. He is not a cop and he is not a reporter, but he has the will, the intelligence and the passion to pursue (at the cost of his personal life) the killer. He is not a hero, just someone that has a knack for puzzles and is drawn into the situation. The movie itself is based on the book that Graysmith wrote based on his years of research.
ZODIAC is a long and very meticulous film that dives into every detail of the crimes, the time period and the evidence. This not only creates this world for the audience, it transports them to this specific time and place in the not so distance past. The entire movie is about the collection of evidence where nothing is too small and then taking this evidence and trying to make sense of it. At 158 minutes, this is (as I said) a long movie, but that is vital to capturing the scale of the case and everything that these people went through to track him down. The pace of the movie is deliberate and very much a “this leads to this, leads to that” structure. Despite this, the movie never drags and there is not a wasted moment.
I compared this movie to ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and I do not do so lightly. They are both stories of men who stop at nothing to track down the truth and they are both based on true stories. The major difference (besides their subject of investigation) is that Woodward and Bernstein’s obsession only last a year or so and the Zodiac investigation and obsession lasted for more than 15 years and was still never really solved.
The performances are strong (if not great) top to bottom. There are two real standouts for me and they are Mark Ruffalo and John Carroll Lynch. Ruffalo has always been a favorite of mine, but it has been years since he has had a real meaty role to sink his teeth into. The layers that he presents are remarkable. He is a cop, a husband and a celebrity of sorts and be balances them all with precision. You feel his dedication and obsession to the case and really feel for him, as he is lead along the path of endless suspects and evidence with lives at stake. John Carroll Lynch is simply fantastic as Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. While he has very little screen time, he dominates the scenes that he is in, primarily a questioning session between him and Toschi. In this scene, he does more with body language and facial gestures than any words could convey. From the unsettling calm that passes over him while talking about these murders and his alibi to the way that he casually crosses his legs mid conversation makes him not only threatening, but puts the you in the mind of Toschi “knowing” that he is the one. But is he?
The real star of ZODIAC is the director David Fincher. In an already impressive career (SE7EN, THE GAME, FIGHT CLUB) he delivers his most mature film and one of his best. It is not over stylized like previous films, but has a restraint that is absolutely necessary to tell the story presented here. That being said, Fincher knows how to use the camera like few others. Working with collaborator Harris Savides (THE GAME, ELEPHANT, BIRTH, LAST DAYS) as a cinematographer, they have created a beautiful and haunting film.
ZODIAC is a great movie... the first great movie of 2007 and will probably stand as one of the ten best films of the year.


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