The first great movie of 2007 has arrived, Zodiac. The film embodies every aspect of a good crime thriller: from it edge-of-your-seat suspense to the intense dramatic moments and served with a hint of humor.
“This is the Zodiac speaking …”
With those chilling words, the serial killer ushered in a sense of panic across the San Francisco bay area. A case that could probably rival that of Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac not only killed mercilessly but also gloated about his “game” in letters sent to news outlets. The film focuses on Robert Graysmith’s account of the events as a cartoonist with the SF Chronicle.
It opens on a seemingly ideal Fourth of July with a couple parked in a car. A stranger the approaches the car and without speaking a word opens fire on both of them. The event leaves Darlene Ferrin dead and as severely injured Mike Mageau who later provides police with their first composite of the killer. Zodiac gets it all right from the beginning. From the brutality of the murders to the number of stabs each victim obtained to where the bodies where positioned, all the facts are presented as they occurred. Why is so important? It is not, but with the majority of movies taking creative liberties to spice a story, it is refreshing to see one that gives the facts as they are.
As the killings begin breaking the news, audiences are introduced to the three key characters: Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and through their viewpoint the story of the serial killer begins to unfold. Toschi is snowballed trying to work fast with several other counties before the taunting killer strikes again. No matter where he looks for answers, he encounters roadblocks that derail his investigation. Avery takes the case in fun even lampooning the killer by calling “a homosexual” until he receives a treat of his own. However, most of the film is through the perspective of Graysmith who quiet curiosity in the beginning explodes into a full-blown obsession with the killer than threatens his family. The story of the killer consumes the cartoonist, even during a four-year hiatus when the treats and letters from the Zodiac have all but ceased, he still is gathering information in hopes of cracking the case. An intricate web is created and as viewers, we are trapped only seeing glimpses at a time from three very different perspectives.
Zodiac never tries to humanize the killer to gain sympathy from the audience but instead it presents the killer, as he is an enigma. Modern films such as 2003’s Academy Award-winning Monster spent too much time trying to delve into the mindset of these prolific murderers and somehow find incidents to justify this behavior. However, it is not an honest representation nor is it nearly as terrifying because part of what makes serial killers iconic is the mystery. Nothing is more frightening than a person who murders with no motive just for the sheer excitement it brings them. This is something Zodiac understands very well and it shrouds its killer with doubt.
While the film is working off the novel written by Graysmith about the events, director David Fincher wisely inserts more police documents and scene evidence rather than the author’s assumptions therein making the movie more authentic. Fincher’s trademark palette of dark tones works magnificently in creating suspense and intensifying the moments.
Downey Jr. and Ruffalo are fantastic as pillars to Graysmith. Each actor gives their respective characters an abundance of personality and charisma, drawing audience further into the story. The film’s biggest asset was up-and-coming Gyllenhaal who delivers an explosive performance. Gyllenhaal easily veers from the wide-eyed innocence of a boy scout to the deranged stare of a man whose life is spinning out of control. The casting could not have been any better.
In one of the killer’s final correspondence with the San Francisco Chronicle, he stated, “”I am waiting for a good movie about me. Who will play me.” Well, no the wait is over.