Zodiac

 
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by:James Vanderbilt
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny
Released: May 17, 2007
Grade: A

In 1969, a letter was received by the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the Vallejo Times-Herald.  The writer identified himself as a murderer and gave specific details of murders that he had committed in the past year.  He also included three ciphers and demanded that they be published in each newspaper.  You can find them at http://www.zodiackiller.com/Letters.html.  They were soon decoded but his identity was not revealed.

Over the coming months, he would send more cryptic letters and codes to the Chronicle.  He called himself the Zodiac and claimed to be responsible for many more killings.  These letters and the resulting publicity turned him into one of history’s most infamous serial killers.

Based on actual events, David Fincher’s film chronicles the murders and then follows the hunt for the person responsible.  Detectives Toschi (Ruffalo) and Armstrong (Edwards) were in charge of the investigation but it was not an easy assignment.  The Zodiac left no fingerprints or any other key clues.  To make matters even more difficult, thousands of leads were being phoned in by the paranoid public and copycat killers were surfacing.  It became almost impossible to separate fact from fiction.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Avery (Downey Jr) was covering the story.  He wrote regular articles on the case and these attracted the attention of the Zodiac.  Helping Avery was the newspaper’s cartoonist – a young man named Robert Greysmith (Gyllenhaal).  A keen code breaker, Greysmith was fascinated with the case.

There were a number of suspects but sufficient evidence could not be found to lay charges.  The killings stopped and interest faded away.  The one man who never gave up was Greysmith.  He would not stop until he could find the Zodiac and look him in the eye.  In the early 1990s, he wrote a book on the case and it from this source on which James Vanderbilt’s screenplay is based.

Zodiac is a gripping film.  I’ve seen serial killer movies before but I don’t think I’ve seen one that felt as “real” from an investigatory point of view.  I was riveted by the investigation and the way in which the pieces of the puzzle fitted together.  It isn’t like your standard Hollywood thriller where the lead detective has some crazy brainwave and all is wrapped up in a few days.  This film is spread over many years and you see the strain that it causes on those connected with it.  The film’s tagline says it best – “There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer.”

It may be over two and a half hours in length but there’s seldom a dull moment.  The film has a quick tempo and credit goes to director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven).  All the actors have been well cast with particularly strong performances turned in by Mark Ruffalo (Just Like Heaven) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain).  I also liked the setting and the way in which Fincher’s lens captures the streets of San Francisco on a rainy night.  The 1970s costumes are equally memorable.

I’ve been crying out for some good movies over the past few months.  There’s been nothing at all to get excited about… until now.  So if you’re looking for me to recommend something, then Zodiac is my answer.