I canít imagine a better
movie about the still-unsolved ďZodiacĒ killings that plagued San Francisco
during the late sixties and early seventies. The director of this
intellectually charged but still gripping epic was David Fincher, and itís one
of his finest films.
ZODIAC (2007) joins the short list of David Fincher masterworks, alongside
SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB. The inspiration for this film was two books, ZODIAC and
ZODIAC UNMASKED, both by cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who worked at the San
Francisco Tribune during the Zodiac killerís reign. Graysmith, portrayed by
Jake Gyllenhaal, plays a big part in ZODIAC.
It was an expensive production (with a reported $65
million budget) with several mid-range stars (Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.,
Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards), but wasnít terribly successful theatrically. It
did attain some popularity on DVD, a good thing for ZODIACíS backers but a
not-so-good one for viewers who missed the film in theaters, as it weaves a
spell that works best on a big screen.
July, 1969: in a secluded Vallejo, CA parking lot a young couple is
senselessly gunned down by a shadowy individual. The woman dies but the man
On August 1 three suspicious letters appear in the office of the San
Francisco Tribune. Their author claims credit for the previous monthís
shootings, as well as another double murder that occurred the previous year.
Each letter includes parts of a cryptogram the writer demands be posted on the
paperís front page. The cryptogram is published in its entirety by the
Tribune, and solved by an elderly housewife. By that time another letter
has arrived at the Tribune offices in which the murder proclaims his
identity: The Zodiac Killer.
September, 1969: another young couple is attacked, this time at the
scenic Lake Berryessa. The modus operandi is a knife with which the Zodiac
Killer, clad in a black outfit with an executionerís hood, repeatedly stabs the
couple. Once again the man survives and the woman dies.
October, 1969: A cab driver is shot in the head by an unseen
passenger in San Franciscoís Presidio Heights. The passenger flees, passing two
cops who let him go, as an eyewitnessís description of the assailant
misidentified him as a black man.
The City of San Francisco is gripped by fear. A massive investigation is
launched, but all it turns up are false leads. In the meantime the Zodiac
Killer continues bombarding the Tribune with letters.
March, 1970: a young woman is driving down a lonely stretch of road
late one night in Modesto, CA with her infant daughter in tow. Another car
pulls up whose unseen male driver tells the woman that one of her rear wheels is
loose. She grudgingly accepts a ride with the man, but jumps from the car with
her baby when the guy threatens to throw the child out the window.
More Zodiac penned letters flow into the Tribune claiming responsibility
for terrorizing the young woman, but no credible leads are found--or so it
seems. Robert Graysmith, the Tribuneís political cartoonist, becomes obsessed
with the case, and grows determined to solve it on his own. He receives minimal
help from the various police departments but forges ahead, eventually becoming
so wrapped up in the case that it wrecks his marriage.
Graysmith eventually turns his attention to a shady
character named Arthur Leigh Allen, who seems the most likely culprit in the
Zodiac killings, and who, unbeknownst to Graysmith, also tops the authoritiesí
list of suspects. But getting the charges to stick is easier said than done,
and Mr. Allen dies just as the case is heating back up. Thus the identity of
the Zodiac Killer remains a mystery.
This film showcases David Fincher at his surest and most confident. Youíll
be hard-pressed to find a single poorly framed, mistimed, out-of-place or
otherwise flawed shot. Perhaps no other modern filmmaker exacts a greater
degree of perfectionism than Fincher (whoís famous for his extremely high volume
of takes), and it definitely shows.
The violence may seem somewhat muted, especially in comparison with that of
SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB (although the early scenes of the killer at work are strong
and disturbing), but thatís part of what makes ZODIAC such an unprecedented
effort. Itís concerned not with the Zodiac Killerís crimes but with the
investigation that followed. The result is very likely the most thorough and
exhaustive serial killer movie of all time. We feel the yearning and
frustration of its detectives and reporters as they follow one lead after
another, nearly all of which lead to dead ends. The film really shouldnít be as
involving as it is--that it manages to grip viewers from start to finish despite
an excessively talky 2Ĺ-hour narrative about a case that is never solved is a
testament to Fincherís genius, and the talents of his collaborators.
Of particular importance is the production design, which really immerses
the viewer in late-20th Century San Francisco (the reason the film is
best experienced on a big screen). The scenery is enhanced by state-of-the-art
digital effects that never detract from the narrative. The photography, as in
most of Fincherís films, is dark (I mean that literally), which fits the subject
matter perfectly--not unlike nearly every other element herein.
Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: David Fincher
Producers: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer, James Vanderbilt,
Screenplay: James Vanderbilt\
(Based on a book by Robert Graysmith)
Cinematography: Harris Savides
Editing: Angus Wall
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards,
Brian Cox, Elias Koteas,
Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney, Chloe Sevigny, Ione Skye