|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.
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.
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."