the studio gate

the backlot

the screening room
The Screening Room

Director David Fincher's movies have been both self-absorbed in their "look at how cool I am as a director" and their often times brilliant tricks. "Alien3" (1992) had one of the best previews I've ever seen. The concept of Sigourney Weaver and a group of hardened prisoners battling an alien with no weapons was priceless. The film looked like it was going to be damned great. Once the film came out, it was a little hit and a lot of miss. Fincher surprised me with his control of "Seven" (1995) by making a gripping thriller. "Fight Club" (1999) was a darkly funny film, yet left me empty afterward. Fincher has one hell of an eye for visual style and direction, yet he can sometimes leave one frustrated.

"Zodiac," which was released in early 2007, received critical kudos, but audiences didn't seek it out. Here's a new opportunity to see this detective story. The movie has been re-released in a special 2-disc set.

When Fincher is on fire, he blazes through a film leaving you torched. "Zodiac" begins slowly and effectively sets up the time period and suspense that grows on you. Though I'm not one for blood and terrifying films, Fincher does a credible job in making this outing less gory than his previous films. He concentrates on the horror and downright fear of the Zodiac killings. To his credit and the credit of screenwriter James Vanderbuilt, they've made the murders quite vivid. The sequence that got to me was the murder at the lake. Fincher apparently went by the account of the survivor on that horrific day. We're placed in the victim's shoes as the Zodiac appears out-of-nowhere. Even though there isn't much blood shown, the stabbing of the young woman is unnerving. The scene is simply laid out, but with Fincher's careful staging, it stays with you after the movie is over. Fincher, to his credit, knows how to carry out a disturbing scene.    

I love how Fincher and company set up the early years of the Zodiac case. Through the use of some very clever visual effects (I didn't even notice them until I saw the visual effects breakdown), we're put right in the middle of the early-1970s Bay Area. Unlike some films, where it seems that modern day style mixes in with period sets, clothing and mannerisms, "Zodiac" feels like it's right.

The second portion of the story of "Zodiac" is the detective hunt for the killer. Newspaper artist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhall) is a nerdy and obsessed guy who gets into trying to solve who this mysterious Zodiac killer really is. His sleuthing gets him involved with hot shot column writer Paul Avery (Downey Jr.) and Inspector David Toschi (Ruffalo). The acting is wonderful throughout their scenes together and on their own. Everyone in "Zodiac" puts in an excellent performance. Of note is Brain Cox as attorney Melvin Belli. He's funny and engaging in his short scenes.

"Zodiac" loses momentum when it lingers on years after the first murder. Graysmith is still alienating the people in his life to pursue the real killer, while everyone else has moved on. Maybe Fincher was attempting to follow the real story to the letter. Nearly all of the principle characters/real life people are fascinating to watch. The story, up to a point, is compelling. Yet I wonder if too much of the story was trying to be told. The way Fincher lays the film out is epic and you do get into it. Some of the latter scenes are thrilling. But I found myself looking at the running time on my DVD display. "Is this movie over yet?" After being thrilled with the first two hours of the film, I came away from it feeling empty after the rest of the movie.

I would've concentrated on the most interesting character in the film and cut it down to two hours or less. I thought that Mark Ruffalo, with his understated performance, was the most interesting character. His snooping for the real killer is the stuff that makes a detective story compelling. But then his character, as written, pretty much goes on with his life. Dead end for a story arc, and that's pretty much how the movie goes. Gyllenhaal's Graysmith is a loner and we don't feel much empathy for him. I wouldn't say he's as creepy as the Zodiac. But he's not as interesting to watch as Ruffalo or Edwards or Cox. I suppose there were a lot of different options Fincher and writer Vanderbuilt could have gone. They chose the route of including the principle figures to the real story, rather than concentrating on one person.  

On one hand, I was ready to highly recommend this film. On the other hand, I revised my view of the film and felt it misses the mark. I won't say "Zodiac" is a failure, because it's not. It's quite well-done. If you give the film time, and don't read too much into it, Fincher's take on the Zodiac is thought-out and often times compelling as any thriller like "Silence of the Lambs" (1991). The beauty of "Lambs" is that it tells its horrifying story quickly. There are no real loose ends and you feel satisfied. "Zodiac" revs up then sputters, then gets up to a comfortable speed, only to leave one shrugging their shoulders. "Well, it's good, but man, if it just had something else to it."

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: Paramount. All rights reserved.

Quick Glimpse


Good detective story that gets bogged down with long running time

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards


2-disc edition includes feature-length documentary on the real Zodiac, visual effects reels, and more



Picture: Very Good
Sound: Very Good

Some of the  San Francisco scenes aren't real at all

Aspect Ratio (2.39:1)

Dolby Digital 5.1

January 8, 2008