Based on the book by Robert Graysmith, “Zodiac” is by far the best movie made on the subject of the infamous Zodiac Killer. Less thriller and more expose, Zodiac tries to answer the one million dollar question; “Who is the Zodiac?”
Chance drops Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, in the middle of the Zodiac killings investigations when the news room is chosen to get a letter from the Zodiac Killer. The as more letters are sent by the killer a spark and obsession is kindled in Graysmith. Graysmith takes an active role in the case, interviewing witnesses, encouraging the police, trying to break the codes given to the newspapers. The two detectives in the case, Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Inspector William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) devote years of energy, and life in the hunt for the killer. As time goes on, the Zodiac takes the lives of people he didn’t kill.
Gyllenhaal gives a cloudless good nature to Graysmith. Even though Graysmith often wanders into naivety, and occasionally dips his toe in the pool of childlike behavior, he never comes across as an idiot. Instead Gyllenhaal’s poise saves Graysmith from being reduced to a moron and gives him an almost comic book idea of wrong and right when it comes to the Zodiac.
Paul Avery is one of the more entertaining characters in Zodiac. Robert Downey Jr. plays the ace crime reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle. In order to be an effective reporter, you can’t be too concerned with the feelings of the people around you and you must be willing to rip into someone for lying to you while keeping them talking. Downey Jr. expertly crawls into the skin of a big city reporter, waving attitude over the newsroom, on the streets and at the police. Downey Jr. occasionally even walks hips first, swinging his arms, notebook in hand and cigarette in mouth and almost always in some idiotic hat. When I thought I knew what he would say, he surprised me.
There is a bushel of secondary characters freckling the screenplay. Maybe necessarily, the non-main characters are flat, lacking any depth; they don’t have much in the way of back story or forward story for that matter. The detectives from Napa and Vallejo definably do have their own personalities but are only in the story to further Graysmith on his journey to find the Zodiac.
Attention to detail was obviously a high priority for David Fincher, director of “Zodiac.” I have heard former reporters of the Chronicle comment on how accurate the newsroom seems. The scenes in Vallejo captured the tract housing, suburban community from which the victims came. Using the Transamerica Pyramid, now a prominent feature in the San Francisco skyline, was an interesting way to show time elapsing in The City. (“The City” is what us Bay Area folks call San Francisco.) The haircuts and costumes were accurate and continue to follow the characters though the decades. The way the Zodiac Killer killed his victims is accurate to best of my knowledge.
Aesthetically “Zodiac” is uncommon and special. Cinematographer Harris Savides pays attention to light, angles, framing, rule of thirds and centering. Obnoxious angles can be distracting but Savides knows how to make the angles and lighting compliment the other aspects of the film. The mood set by the visuals only accentuates the actors and events but does not unhinge your attention from the plot. The scenes that are computer generated are a little bright for San Francisco but they still glisten with the same attention to the elements of design and atmosphere as the rest of the film. The set dressing gives clues to the wellbeing of the characters.
“Zodiac” is a long movie with excellent flow. The editor may have been able to cut a few minutes here or there but the extended length is necessary to the story. The editors mad the right choice when they decided to go with a longer movie with better content.
“Zodiac” is worth seeing for the way it looks, for the acting and for the story. “Zodiac” rekindles my hope in serial killer investigation movies.