Directed by: David Fincher | 158 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Clea DuVall, Adam Goldberg, Elias Koteas, John Caroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney, Chloë Sevigny, Ione Skye, Tom Verica
It has been five years since David Fincher made his most recent feature, “Panic Room”, and his last real success, “Fight Club”, dates back to 1999. Time for a solid comeback, Fincher must have thought. With “Zodiac” he brings the bloodcurdling story of the mysterious serial killer of San Francisco to the silver screen for the umpteenth time, harking back to the qualities shown in “Se7en” with which he caused a furore in 1995. And that’s a good thing, because nothing illustrates one of the most intriguing and unsolved murder cases in the US better than a two and a half hour Fincher spectacle.
With his taunting letters, riddles, and codes, the San Francisco serial killer managed to keep San Francisco police, journalists, and citizens busy for years. “Zodiac” begins with a number of gruesome and realistically portrayed murders, which are shortly afterwards claimed by the killer who calls himself “The Zodiac”. He is demanding from various newspapers that his messages be placed on the front pages, and threatens to commit further murders if this is not done. The legendary status that the serial killer of San Francisco achieved, obviously lends itself perfectly to a film script. However, for his film adaptation Fincher chose a different angle; in addition to retelling the story, Fincher shows who are involved in the case, and what impact the case has on their lives.
The cast of “Zodiac” has therefore been chosen carefully and with great success. The wildly popular Jake Gyllenhaal plays a beautiful role as the young and inexperienced cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who is completely carried away by the mysterious codes of the murderer. Robert Downey Jr. takes on the role of Paul Avery, a journalist at the newspaper who is characterized by a self-destructive and extremely unmanageable character. With dry humor, an arrogant head and a quirky attitude, Downey Jr. van Avery a very entertaining bastard. Mark Ruffalo, who previously played an inspector in “Collateral”, is by far the best in the role. As the famous inspector David Toschi, he and his colleague William Armstrong (an equally pleasant role by Anthony Edwards) are busy day and night with the case surrounding The Zodiac. Although it is not self-evident that big names make a movie great, the casting and acting of the four men in “Zodiac” are evidence of great class.
Even stronger than the acting in ‘Zodiac’ is the atmosphere and aesthetics that Fincher manages to add to his images. He perfectly combines dark, grim and violent scenes with scenes on the streets of San Francisco, in the conference room of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. In addition, he brings the Zodiac case home to the main characters in a kind of suffocating fashion, occasionally resulting in “Scream” -like scenes when the killer makes threats to Avery or Graysmith by phone. In addition, he plays fantastically with suspects and suspicions, which lead to a thrilling climax when Graysmith visits Bob Vaughn, a former colleague of prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, to investigate the case. In combination with short scenes that beautifully depict the passage of time (culminating in the enormously accelerated construction of San Francisco’s characteristic Transamerica Pyramid) and a detailed historical reconstruction of San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, Fincher ‘Zodiac’, as well as ‘Se7en’ and ‘Fight Club’ managed to make a visual masterpiece.
Anyone who wants to make a success of a two-and-a-half-long film about an unsolved murder case must either know very well what they are doing or be completely insane. Fincher proves with a very intriguing and intelligent thriller that he does not belong to the latter category. Anyone who wants to surpass Fincher in the cinemas this year will have to come from a very high place. And those who only think of a watch brand or a rubber boat when they think of the name “Zodiac” should be deeply ashamed.