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Zodiac - The Director's Cut (Two-Disc Special

A movie directed by David Fincher

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Zodiac – A killer undetermined yet we feel so satisfied

  • Nov 6, 2010
  • by
4 Stars out of 4

David Fincher's Zodiac is not about a killer but what surrounds a killer. Most of the film is addressed through nuanced, subtle, and ponderous banter about characters trying to connect-the-dots but always drawing square circles. The Zodiac Killer was a tease; he got what he wanted - infamy, power, and control - and regardless of his motives, he got away with his killings. Zodiac, therefore, punishes our expectations: we sit through this almost three-hour movie not to for a payoff but to be put in our place, only allowed to speculate and try to logically resolve a case that has no resolution.

July 4, 1969 - a car rolls down the crusty, humid Vallejo roads. Fincher puts us in the driver's POV believing to set an emotional nexus between us and the first two characters. But the mood is cut when the two teenagers are gunned down by a man whose figure is obscured neatly in the shadows. Fincher plays 1960s rock music to create an irony: his tone suggests a film about an era but one that incumbently pays ode to a serial killer.

San Francisco, prone to thousands of murders every year, becomes victimized by a killer whose intentions are like any other: to take away the lives of others for self-recognition. It's not the guns or the video games that inspire these killers; it is the fame, the ability of being feared while simultaneously scrutinized by the highest order of authority. Zodiac sends 'love letters' to the San Francisco Chronicle outlining his intentions: he will kill for the fun of it, it is the most dangerous game, and that his victims will be his slaves in the afterlife. Fincher doesn't know what the Zodiac represents but he creates strong implications: this murderous prophet is protected behind the enigma of his ciphers and letters - but he is like any other killer, except he knows how create a stir and get away with it.

Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) is an ambitious yet detrimentally stubborn journalist who writes columns providing meticulous details on the Zodiac. He is not obsessed with the killer, just force-feeding the public, embroidering this case with inquiries, while never demanding answers. Avery is fascinated with himself and what he creates. Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the obsessed; he is a cartoonist and is a perfectionist at aligning the lines and deciphering anything with a visual stamp. 

The first half of Zodiac is compelling. It does not necessarily follow a plot, but only the behaviour of the Zodiac Killer case: it begins with fascination, mystery, and justice and regresses (in the second half) to obsession, paranoia, and the sadly unsolved. Fincher has no problem dividing up the story. Time moves by like running water, eliminating the importance of emotionally connecting with the characters. Things happen so fast that we can never understand or believe the relationships that rectify. This is not rare for Fincher. He controls mood, pace, and time instead of character, plot, and themes. The director's adroitness often marries them all at any rate.

Zodiac is most closely related to Fincher's second film Seven. I liked Seven, was absorbed by its mood, its dark and slashingly intrepid narrative scope, but found it dwindled to predictability in its last quarter. Zodiac already sets up that we will never catch the killer. He performs something rather brilliant here. Since we know the Zodiac Killer will not be caught, we spend our time in Zodiac engulfed in the characters who obsess about the means to an end - an end we already know the answer (or lack thereof) to. For Fincher, Zodiac is not about the killer and his POV, (that would cater to the killer's fetish) it is about his impact on the minds of others and his existence was almost, dare I say, a demand. Where would we be without our obsessions anyways?

I'm most certainly forgetting that this film is ridden with excellent scenes. Every scene involving the Zodiac seems distilled with silence, a protrusion of fear, and angst. Fincher uses high-speed digital cameras to slow down time and capture the murders not in a romantic sense but to emphasize a moment that will always be pending. Who is that figure lurking in the shadows? We can hear his voice but we never actually, as Graysmith strives to, stand face to face to him and look him in the eye. There's nothing more tantalizing (and masterful) than letting an audience know they cannot win.

What is also interesting about the Zodiac Killer is his lack of pattern. Fincher's character juxtaposition is strong: he creates characters like Graysmith, Avery, and also a disgruntled detective named David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) who exercise deduction in the Zodiac case. They use patterns, connect numbers, unscramble code, and solicit witnesses in order to break the case. But the Zodiac is messy but a pundit at his own relentless, irrational game. His first victims he shoots in cold blood, the next two are in an alleged robbery, and the third victim (who actually escapes) he greets with open arms. The killer is a facade of personalities - something Fincher has always been fascinated by. The Zodiac is a lesser radical but equally active Tyler Durden.

Fincher too defines an era that spans from 1969 till 1991. After 5 killings, the Zodiac was silent. The case was dormant. Characters obsessed. It's as if answers are most important to them but never for Fincher... at least until now. Fight Club, The Game, and Seven posed a twist and an answer. Zodiac does none of these. Fincher emphasizes the futility of payoff, yet ironically we've never felt so rewarded by the film's seamless progression.

Fincher's films expand but never contract in the end. Zodiac ends but rattles you with its uncertainty. In its final scene, a survivor submits in a lineup of photos that a certain character was the man who shot him - the Zodiac Killer. Is so and so the killer? Yes, we have to think he is - but it's never declared certain. By the end, we become the characters.
Zodiac – A killer undetermined yet we feel so satisfied

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November 17, 2010
very nice review. I need to see this again, since the copy I saw before had bad sound. Thanks! I have featured this review.
November 10, 2010
Great review! I saw this film a few months ago and really enjoyed the quality of the direction and story-telling, albeit it did feel like it was longer than it should've been.
November 09, 2010
Nice review, but I found the film lacking ONLY because I had read the book upon which the filming script was based.
November 07, 2010
Great review! I just re-watched this movie before Halloween and it is definitely creepy. It's also frustrating that the detectives were so limited in their ability to charge someone. You can see why certain characters did become so obsessed with solving the case. Thanks for sharing!
More Zodiac (2007) reviews
review by . March 16, 2011
I will probably get excessively noogied over the internet for saying this, but I didn't think Zodiac was all that great a movie. I tried really hard to like it, but I just didn't like it as much as I was assured I would. Don't get me wrong, I still liked it a bit, I just don't think it's worth all the eighties and nineties it's been getting on RT. I knew absolutely nothing about the case of the Zodiac Killer before viewing this film, but I found the case to be quite interesting …
review by . April 03, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: great pacing, good acting ensemble     Cons: none for me     The Bottom Line:   “We Shall Fear Nothing  Demand The Impossible  Dream Your Destiny  Defy The Logic Of Alphabets  I Slayed The King Of The Wolves  Nothing Is Impossible”  ~Wolfchild Speech     This was kind of like sending Clark Kent, without his alter ego, off to fight evildoers. You couldn’t …
review by . November 16, 2008
I watched a film today, oh boy   About a quiet man who wrote a book   And though the book did rather well   No one had time for laughs   They saw the photographs   Of people shot dead in their cars   They didn't know at first the killer's name   A group of letters soon appeared   He said he'd killed them all   Nobody was really sure if he was just leading them on     I saw a film today, …
review by . July 10, 2008
The SF Chronicle reported that DNA from saliva under a postage stamp has cleared Arthur Leigh Allen, the favorite suspect in San Francisco's most celebrated serial murder mystery. Artie Allen may or may not be gratified - he died, after all, twelve years ago - but I find the news disquieting. Though there's no reason for the cops to have my DNA on file, I've long been expecting suspicion to shine my way. The profile fits. I moved to the Bay Area in 1968, in time for the first killing at the pumping …
review by . January 09, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
ZODIAC is director David Fincher's finest film to date. All of the preparatory exercises in violence and horror he served so well in such films as FIGHT CLUB and SEVEN now are even more terrifying because of the manner in which he internalizes the events of the infamous Zodiac killer of the 1960s and 1970s and allows us to see how the murders and lack of proof of the perpetrator destroyed the personal lives of those bound to reveal Zodiac's identity. The story of course is true, as documented in …
review by . August 06, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Mood and cinematography      Cons: Weak story that went on for far too long      The Bottom Line: I like Fincher and his mood-making is good here, but it is the only thing, so I cannot recommend it.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.      David Fincher is in my relatively short list of favorite directors despite his rather small list of films to date. He is a …
review by . July 26, 2007
David Fincher knows how to go straight to the bone, whether that be by grisly effects or wearing down the psyches of his audience. In ZODIAC he traces the very long investigation of the serial killer in the 1960s and 1970s in the San Francisco area who was never found and has managed to mimic that interminably long yet fascinating exploration by taking close to 3 hours to unravel the bits and pieces of evidence that were to confound the police and the press alike. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith …
review by . July 24, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
There's nothing quite like a mystery. Lately, we have gotten a lot of films involving investigative puzzles. (`The Davinci Code,' `Inside Man,' and `National Treasure,' come to mind.) Such is the case with `Zodiac,' except this film is a true-to-life crime story about a serial killer who stalked victims in Vallejo and San Francisco, CA starting in 1969. It was unprecedented at the time because the police success rate was good until then, and the "Summer of Love" was a not-too-distant memory. Gripping …
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Parker Mott ()
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Member Since: Nov 6, 2010
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Closer in spirit to a police procedural than a gory serial-killer flick, David Fincher'sZodiacprovides a sleek, armrest-gripping re-invention of the crime film. It surveys the investigation of the Zodiac killings that terrorized the San Francisco Bay area in the late -60-early -70s; Zodiac not only killed people, but cultivated a Jack the Ripper aura by sending icky letters to the newspapers and daring readers to solve coded messages. But the film's focus isn't on the killer. We follow the reporters and detectives whose lives are taken over by the case, notably an addictive crime writer (a sartorially splendid Robert Downey Jr.), an awkward editorial cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal), and a hard-working cop (Mark Ruffalo). Fincher and his brilliant cinematographer Harris Savides are deft at capturing the period feel of the city, without laying on the seventies kitsch, and James Vanderbilt's script doles out its big moments to major and minor characters alike. Fincher's confidence is infectious; the movie glides through its myriad details with such dexterity that even the blind alleys and red herrings seem essential. The well-chosen cast includes unexpected people popping up all over: Anthony Edwards as a lunch-bucket homicide cop; Charles Fleischer as a mysterious suspect; Elias Koteas and Donal Logue as small-town policemen whose districts are hit by Zodiac; Chloe Sevigny as Gyllenhaal's sweet-natured wife; Brian Cox as the media-friendly lawyer Melvin ...
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Director: David Fincher
DVD Release Date: January 8, 2008
Runtime: 157 minutes
Studio: Paramount
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