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USA 2007
Directed by
David Fincher
158 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
3.5 stars


Synopsis: The story of the real-life "Zodiac" serial killer and based on the book by Robert Graysmith about the investigation that started in the late 1960s and remains open today.

Will Zodiac restore director David Fincher’s cred after the disappointment that was his previous film, Panic Room (2002)? He was criticised for 1993's Alien 3 (perhaps unfairly given studio interference after which Fincher disowned the film), well-regarded for Se7en (1995) and The Game,(1997) and with Fight Club (1999) became hyper-regarded as an innovative, highly visual story-teller. (Thankfully, the studios decided not to continue the numerological stylization with The Gam3, F1ght C1ub, etc.) In between, he’s done a lot of music videos. This puts him in good company with the likes of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Alex Proyas – they all worked in video production at Propaganda Films at different times before moving into feature films.

Fincher’s work typically emphasizes character and dilemma to great effect, even in his more action-oriented films. He takes well-known faces and encourages a sophisticated performance that in some cases goes far beyond the expected. Perhaps the best examples are the respectively debauched and emotional performances in Fight Club of former Merchant-Ivory princess, Helena Bonham Carter, and bad boy, Meatloaf. But Zodiac shows that Fincher hasn’t lost his touch.

While female characters are thin on the ground, unless they happen to be dead, the men give great performances.Mark Ruffalo is typically tremendous, this time as a world-weary cop with hardly a flicker of the 20-something geek he played so plausibly in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004). Robert Downey Jr has an interesting character as a hip reporter, but he is sadly under-utilised in yet another substance abuser role. On the other hand Jake Gyllenhaal is meant to be the fulcrum of the story, and does his best, but ultimately his boy scout character is left undeveloped. The film seems unsure whether to portray him as indispensable cipher-breaker or simply obsessive researcher. As his character’s future is finally reduced to a simple sub-title before the end credits you wonder why you weren’t shown more of the fundamentals of the man’s character.

Zodiac is beautifully shot with detailed high-resolution digital whizzbangery. The lingering camera captures some particularly memorable moments – the distant overhead tracking of vehicles, or the slow-burning intensity of an interview. The restrained approach to the violence of the serial killer, which is nevertheless still shocking, helps build a keenly-felt, noirish tension. Whilst the focus is on the characters’ confusion, doubt and obsessions and the treatment has predominantly realistic tone, the film is more expositional and long-winded than other Fincher works and can be hard to follow. It is an interesting, very well-made film, but the story lacks a certain ‘zing’ (technical critical term) or moral questioning that we have come to associate with Fincher. Perhaps it’s an exercise in deconstructing the usually slick police procedural that works too well, with the frustration felt by characters threatening to taint the viewer too over what is a long run time. Constrained by the book on which it is based, Fincher’s transposition doesn’t go down as many interesting paths as it might but on the other hand the director's taste for the sensational is also reined in and that's not a bad thing. 




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