IMDB Link: Zodiac (2007)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
Based on: Zodiac by Robert Graysmith
Synopsis: In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree.
Out of every film in David Fincher’s filmography, there were only two films that I had seen before this series I started running. One of them was Zodiac, and even then I only watched it for the first time a few months ago. I was interested to see what my reaction to the film would be on a second watch, as I loved Zodiac on my first. I am glad to report that the film holds up incredibly well on repeat viewing.
This is the first film of Fincher’s that is based on a real story and grounded in reality. There is a challenge that comes with real life, as there has to be that selection process of what is important to the story, as well as what is visually pleasing and entertaining to watch. Having gone back and done research on the Zodiac Killer murders after watching the film, it was surprising how accurate this film was to the real stories. Even down to the small details, making it clear that the amount of suspected murders that the Zodiac Killer did only led to seven being confirmed.
It should not be a surprise given the cast, but the performances here are all top quality, particularly from Mark Ruffalo who gives my favourite performance in the film. Jake Gyllenhaal is the lead here, playing Robert Graysmith – the cartoonist who wrote the book that this film is heavily reliant on, and this may just be Gyllenhaal’s best performance. Robert Downey Jr. has scenes that do feel like his character, Paul Avery, is overdramatic, yet Downey Jr. pulls away from that and is able to make his character not appear to be a caricature.
What makes this film work is the story itself. It is one of, if not, the most famous unsolved crime cases in history and the entire story is fascinating. It is not only the crimes themselves, but the trail that the Zodiac Killer led the police and journalists on. Giving circumstantial evidence of his existence and his crimes, such as coordinates and blood samples, whilst managing to hide behind a voice and his handwriting.
Fincher proves again, straight after Panic Room, that he is able to masterfully craft suspense and tension within a scene. Yes, he does this with some of the murders themselves, but that is not the impressive part. To give one example, Robert Graysmith is talking to a suspect in the case and that person simply says one thing that makes us fear for Graysmith’s life. This is when the films shines, and what keeps the audience hooked throughout the entire 157 minute runtime without ever getting bored once.
The audience is led to believe that there will be a nice ending to this story, because that is what we expect from crime films like this. However, we know deep down knowing the story of the Zodiac Killer that there won’t be a nice resolution, or a big reveal. We can speculate, as this film does, but there is nothing conclusive and Fincher makes sure that the audience knows that. It does not feel incomplete either though, because of the speculation and the information that is provided at the end of the film. It ends in the perfect place, at least for right now.
There are few directors that could tell the story of the Zodiac Killer like David Fincher did. It was clear from his previous films that he could develop characters, tell dark stories and build the suspense. With Zodiac, he also proves that he can adapt from real life and present true stories in a format that is both truthful to the source, as well as entertaining. I ended up liking the film even more on a second watch, and I can see myself going back to it again and again.