A crude letter to the editor arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle in August 1969, claiming to be from a killer who had just murdered what were the first of several victims - and he wants it published. The paper's cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is immediately hooked by the case, as are his colleague, the paper's star crime reporter, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr), Homicide Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Inspector William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). As the killer, Zodiac he calls himself, sends more letters claiming more murders, the determined hunt by police is getting nowhere, except circumstantial evidence. As years goes by, one by one, the police and Avery all move on - but not Greysmith, whose obsessive private sleuthing is destroying his marriage - even as it is leading him towards a witness who has already been discounted.
Review by Louise Keller:
The fact that it lacks sensationalism works in its favour, and David Fincher presents an intriguing and intelligent puzzle of a film about a serial killer that allows us to peek into the process of police procedure. Filled with drama and tension, two homicide detectives, a crime journalist and a cartoonist become obsessed about an unsolved case that somehow worms itself into their lives. There are revelations, frustrations, fastidious details, red herrings and a tangible human cost when it comes to lives and relationships. The cutting edge of the story is that it is not fiction and James Vanderbilt's absorbing screenplay of Robert Graysmith's book never lets up as it leads us through a prism of obsession.
We get a taste of how the murderer works as he targets lovers, a couple picnicking by the lake and a cab driver. There are clues, partial prints, handwriting samples and symbols to de-cypher. Children who see the man's face describe him as looking 'normal'. He is so close, yet so far, and as every tip and clue is pursued, the case reaches stale mate. But it is the key players that suck us in and hold our interest. Mark Ruffalo, excellent as the homicide detective who lives and breathes his job; Robert Downey Jnr as the flamboyant journalist with vices; Jake Gyllenhaal as the serious cartoonist who becomes obsessed. The script is serious, but is never bogged down by irrelevant pedantics. There is light relief at the most unexpected of times, when behaviour or conversation become absurd, like the scene when Gyllenhaal's Graysmith enlists his three young children to assist him to research facts and dates of the Zodiac's activities.
Zodiac concentrates on the process and the detail is fascinating. Lives unravel, relationships fall by the way and the pulse to hone in on the Zodiac killer never abates. There may not be a pat ending, but the canvass and characters displayed are sprawled out for discerning observation and appraisal. Intense and engrossing, this is a mature and complete piece of cinema that like the zodiac, comes full circle.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This true crime police procedural based on the real case of Zodiac the serial killer in late 60s California is brilliantly constructed and intriguing as a story from the SFPD files. The twist in the story is that the character who finally emerges as central to the story is a shy editorial cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who becomes obsessed with the case of the Zodiac's identity. The closest we come to understanding his obsession is when he explains that he just has to see the man face to face, to look into his eyes ... And remember, the film is based on Graysmith's own books on the subject.
David Fincher loves to use cinema as a way into our darkest hearts, and he does it very well. Here, though, he is restrained by reality - and it's no bad thing. The necessarily lengthy film is told chronologically with frequent signposts of time passing to keep us up to date. It's sometimes scrabbled but the chase element - the hunt for clues - is effectively handled.
The cast couldn't be better chosen: Gyllenhaal is effective as the outsider whose surprisingly well equipped mind latches on to the elements that puzzle the police, such as the Zodiac's secret code. Robert Downey Jr is using up some left over characterisation from A Scanner Darkly as the drink and drug sodden crime reporter - and he's very entertaining in his unpredictable way. Mark Ruffalo, who can act no wrong, is grippingly effective as Toschi the detective whose urgent need to solve the case nearly matches Gresmith's; Anthony Edwards as Inspector William Armstrong is excellent in a role that is easily overlooked, yet has a strong emotional resolution. Indeed, there's not that much emotionally draining in the film, with its constantly shifting analytical framework, but it's satisfying none the less - especially for amateur detectives and puzzle solvers.
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CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloe Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John terry, Candy Clark, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Donal Logue, June Raphael, Pell James, Philip Baker Hall,
PRODUCER: Cean Cheffin, Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, James Vanderbilt
DIRECTOR: David Fincher
SCRIPT: James Venderbilt (novel by Robert Graysmith)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Harris Savides
EDITOR: Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
MUSIC: David Shire
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Donald Graham Burt
RUNNING TIME: 157 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 19, 2007