MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Mystery Thriller/ Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney, Chloë Sevigny, John Terry, Philip Baker Hall, June Diane Raphael, Ciara Hughes, Adam Goldberg, Tom Verica, Lee Norris, Zach Grenier, James LeGros, John Getz, John Mahon, Matt Winston, Jules Bruff, John Ennis, Patrick Scott Lewis, Pell James, Charles Fleischer, Clea DuVall, Zachary Sauers, Micah Sauers, Paul Schulze, John Hemphill, Ione Skye/ Runtime: 157 minutes
I think it should be noted that iconic film helmer David Fincher’s 2007 slice of cinematic pie Zodiac is one that is a gripping representation of one of the more criminally underseen movies in the past 2 decades. Indeed when seeing that the narrative is taut and tight in the best way, the helmsmanship truly dynamic, the performances from a truly phenomenal cast are all riveting and engaging, and the film’s tempo is neither fast and furious nor moving at a snail’s pace, is it any wonder that I say that this slice of cinematic pie has all the ingredients at its disposal in order to be a movie that manages to stand head and shoulders above a lot of the other films of a similar ilk? Yet above all that what really truly distinguishes this film is the fact that, regardless of its epic runtime, script that is propelled forward more by dialogue and pathos than action, it manages to operate as a movie that is audience-oriented. Indeed even though the narrative is immersive, complicated, and is one that will actually want you to gasp pay attention, it is also given to us with the opportunity to breathe once in a while. A feat that is incidentally made possible in significant measure due to Fincher’s outstanding helmsmanship which does not let the audience lose track of where they are in the narrative. Intriguingly, despite all the positives that this movie has going for it, it was completely overlooked by the majority of the awards circuits the year that it came out. Be that as it may be though, the fact still remains that this film is narrative-regaling at its very best, helmed by one of the best helmsmen of his filmmaking class, and top-flight performed by some of the best thespians working in the land of movie magic today.
The plot is as follows: Now even though it gets its title from both the infamous butcher who is the main subject of the movie (and of course the book of the same name by Robert Graysmith), Zodiac is actually more about the long hunt for the butcher rather than the butcher and the acts that he (?) terrorized the city of San Francisco with back in the 70s. Indeed, despite having several moments where we see the heinous acts this butcher committed or came close to committing, the movie tells us the story of how a man working at the San Francisco Chronicle by the name of Robert Graysmith became completely riveted and intrigued with the case to the point that it became an obsession both on a personal and professional level. Graysmith, we quickly learn, is both a cartoonist for the paper yet also one of the lower guys on the totem pole in the newspaper hierarchy as it were. Indeed here is a guy who, at the time the movie is taking place, is finding himself darn near every day cut out of the loop when it comes to business pow-wows between top writer Paul Avery and the higher-ups at the Chronicle especially when it concerns the spine-tingling messages and enigmatic puzzles that are being sent to all the papers by a butcher calling themselves the Zodiac Killer. It seems that this butcher has one simple “request”: reprint what they send or they will kill innocents. Thus we see that as the case starts to drag on into the years column of time, the butcher is relentlessly hunted by a cop named David Toschi and written about by Avery with nothing solid ever popping up. However it is not until Graystone decides to start his own little investigation on the side that we see evidence finally start to come together against one person in particular, but through it all the question still remains: is this person the killer that they seek or is he (?) still out there biding his time and waiting to strike again?
Now right off the bat, and to this film’s immense credit it should be noted that this is one slice of cinematic pie that feels realistic in the best ways possible. Indeed here is a film that not only operates as an iconic example of the style of movie helming that “less can be more”, but even at an over 2 and a half hour runtime, this slice of cinematic pie is permitted the space it needs in order to spin us a yarn that covers an astonishing period of time for a butcher to be on the prowl. Even with that in mind though, this slice of cinematic pie is able to not become bogged down in too many intricacies for a movie that in less than 3 hours manages to take us through about 20 years. Also praise worthy is the fact that while yes this slice of cinematic pie does seem to have quite the attention to detail, it is at the same time only the integral details that are necessary for the narrative to be told as accurately and as skillfully as possible. Indeed David Fincher’s helmsmanship here is truly top-flight in how under-the-radar it is throughout. Yes the action movies of today with their breakneck pace do have a place within the realm of present day movie magic, but the vast majority of time it’s sad to say, but the movie’s style takes the place of any narrative whatsoever. With Fincher and this movie on the other hand, the true story and its intelligent interpretation in this movie are always front and center. Yes this movie is assisted by terrific work in both the set design and costume departments and it also manages to with ease showcase the time period in which it takes place with a phenomenal sense of detail. Yet even with these positives in play, it honestly goes unnoticed thanks to how riveting the narrative is. Make no mistake dear reader this is top flight movie magic at work. Yes it might not be for everyone, but this movie is a riveting example of how to place the narrative first as well as just cinema at its best.
Now perhaps even more than the film being a riveting look at Graysmith’s downright obsessed pursuit of this horrific butcher and the intriguing context that manages to regale us with a immersive narrative that covers at least 2 decades, this slice of cinematic pie manages to triumph more than anything else because of the powerhouse performances in the movie from the lead roles all the way down to their eclectic and electric group of co-stars. This starts with Jake Gyllenhaal who is completely engaging in his turn as arguably the film’s lead Graysmith. Indeed this is a character whose arc is best defined by his single-minded yet driven hunt for the maniacal killer, but in the process losing sight of everyone else around him and his career as well and Gyllenhaal manages to really sell us on these aspects and give us a wonderful performance in this. However I would have to say that the undeniable star of the movie is none other than Robert Downey, Jr as Paul Avery. Indeed Downey manages to give us not only another top-flight performance, but also show that he is significantly more than just Iron Man; he is also a darn good actor period and I hope this film inspires people to both check out some of his earlier work and maybe give Downey the chance to extend his acting prowess once more now that his tenure with Marvel is at a close. Finally the movie also gives us terrific support work from such delightful thespians as Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, and Elias Koteas among others. Suffice it to say then that while yes this movie is phenomenal as it is, but with this kind of talent coming to play it manages to reach a whole other level of greatness entirely and is made all the better because of it.
All in all I am pleased to say that Zodiac is actually a unique item to come along in the world of movie magic in the past 2-3 decades. I say that because this slice of cinematic pie is an incredibly well-paced, engrossing and riveting from beginning all the way to the point that the credits start to roll and beyond, very much the dictionary definition of epic. Both in terms of the over two and a half hour long runtime this film is equipped with to say nothing of the vibe that it manages to exude that not even for a minute becomes completely overwhelmed in over the top in every way imaginable regaling of a tale that manages to neglect the main overall narrative of the movie. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: the story that this slice of cinematic pie is telling is one which is equal parts spine tingling and blood curdling due to the fact that it is actually inspired by things which actually occurred and quite accurately showcases the driven to the point of obsession and maybe even a hint of madness search for one of the most infamous butchers that the United States has ever been cursed with having operate within her shores. Yet this film from iconic and celebrated film helmer David Fincher is truly no more and no less than iconic for how it manages to bring that story so vividly to life whilst combining it with top-notch performances from a phenomenal cast all operating at the very peak of their acting abilities. Suffice it to say then that this is a truly fine example of not only how to tell audiences a story that is equal parts riveting and terrifying, but also in how to make 100% genuine movie magic at its finest and give an audience a film that they will want to watch time and time again starting with the moment that their first viewing is over. On a scale of 1-5 I give Zodiac “07” a solid 4 out of 5.