Zodiac: 4 Stars

David Fincher’s new film about the Zodiac killer is ridiculously good, and very different from his two best-known efforts, Seven and Fight Club. There’s none of Fight Club’s gritty glitz and swagger, no wry Gen-X nihilism, and the differences between Fincher’s tale of an imaginary serial killer in Seven and that of a real one in Zodiac are stark and striking.  If I hadn’t known going in that it was a Fincher film, I never would’ve guessed it from the movie itself, which is a pared-down, quietly unnerving account of the decades-long investigation of murders that remain (at least officially) unsolved to this day. 

Fincher allows nothing to intrude upon the real events being portrayed in this film–unlike in Seven, there is no ominous, thundering score, no drenching of the scenery in symbolic gloom, no cartoonish exaggeration of the villain’s evil. Truly, it’s what Fincher didn’t do in Zodiac that allows the viewer to concentrate completely on the true story being told, and on the virtuoso performances of each and every actor in the cast.  I usually sneer at references to the actor’s “craft” (that pretentious characterization) but here it makes perfect sense.  These actors–from the main players on down–utterly disappear into their characters.  They are shockingly good, almost unbelievably good.  There are the actor’s actors like Mark Ruffalo, Brian Cox, and Robert Downey Jr. (who deserves an Oscar for this performance as much as anyone who has ever been nominated), all of whom are brilliant as usual, and then there’s Gyllenhaal, who takes the lead role and holds the film together remarkably well.  But special note should be taken of John Carroll Lynch, the character actor who plays Arthur Lee Allen (the main suspect who very likely was the Zodiac).  Lynch’s role is perhaps the most important one, because if he’d made even one misstep, the whole film would’ve disintegrated.  After all, the Zodiac is the invisible main character.  But holy moly, he might just be the creepiest MF I’ve ever seen on film.  He nails it, and his interpretation of Allen’s weirdness is wholly unconventional.  

One of Allen’s two scenes is, in my opinion, the very center of the film: in it, he’s interviewed by Inspectors Toschi (Ruffalo) and Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) and Sgt. Mulanax (Elias Koteas).  During the interview, Allen keeps giving away incriminating information to the detectives that he assumes they already have, in an effort to provide a harmless explanation for it all.  But it’s information they don’t have, and you can literally feel the air crackle in the room as they put it all together in their heads. Somehow, the trio conveys perfectly the uncanny intuition great detectives have, and the weird kind of telepathy that sometimes occurs between them. Every once in a great while, a movie contains a scene this perfect, this electric, but it’s rare.

I advise anyone going to see this movie to read up a little bit on the Zodiac case first: the film, I think, is a lot better if one has a basic familiarity with the sequence of events and the names of the main players.  And don’t overdo it on the soda: the movie is long.  Otherwise, just go to the theater, settle in, and let yourself be sucked into this remarkable story.  

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~ by lewdandlascivious on March 4, 2007.

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