FINCHERFEST: Zodiac

29 09 2010

After “Panic Room,” Fincher took a five year break from directing.  He returned to the big screen in 2007 with “Zodiac,” a narrative of the events surrounding the Zodiac Killer who haunted San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s.

There’s no such thing as a simple movie with David Fincher.  On the surface, “Zodiac” looks like a movie about the hunt for a serial killer.  But much like “Seven” is not a movie about a serial killer, neither is “Zodiac.”  It’s a multitude of things, and while it’s not left open for you to interpret like “Fight Club,” you can still make of it what you want.

The movie can really be thought of as two mini-movies (which may brutalize less patient moviegoers since the running time is 157 minutes).  The first half follows the police investigation of the murders of the Zodiac Killer and the games the murderer plays with his victims and the authorities chasing him down.  There’s plenty of cop drama for all of those who faun over movies like “The Town” and “The Departed,” but once the official police inquiry into the events stops, all those drooling will face the harsh reality that “Zodiac” is no longer a police movie.

The second half concerns itself with the peculiar obsession of Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) with tracking down the Zodiac Killer through his own means.  Acting compulsively to catch him, Graysmith consults the two men most knowledgable on the subject, reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and police investigator Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo).  Armed with their insights, he gets to the bottom of the case – even if we don’t have the satisfaction of certainty, as the case is still unsolved as of today.

But the overarching storyline that ties both of these aspects together is a journalistic view of the events.  Here’s how Fincher saw “Zodiac” as he made it:

“I looked at this as a newspaper movie. My model was ‘All the President’s Men.’ You piece the thing together with a bit of info here, a hunch there, and you make mistakes long the way, and maybe you end up with an supportable conclusion as to the when and where and how. … And maybe, with someone like Zodiac, even he couldn’t provide an answer, I don’t know.”

But it’s also not just about the people intimately involved with the investigation; it’s about how the fear of being killed gripped the San Francisco area.  Fincher himself was among those as a seven-year-old boy scared to go outside.  There are no strange storylines that show directly how the events impact the average San Franciscan, but it’s a very subtle undertone that could fly totally under the radar for those not paying attention.  It took me some reading to discover this angle, and the more I think about it, the more I see it.

As a movie that’s psychologically affecting, I don’t think “Zodiac” is entirely effective.  It’s not like I haven’t been scared by the prospect of a serial murderer in real life; the D.C. sniper took his toll when I was about 10 years old, and that frightened me.  However, Fincher crafts a movie quite different from his others here: a fact-based narrative that relies on true events to provide the terror.  The fact that it manages to sustain interest for two and a half hours is another testament to the director’s incredible versatility.

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5 responses

1 10 2010
Fitz

It works well as an allegory for post 9/11 America. But many didn’t see that.

1 10 2010
Marshall

I had heard that, but I didn’t really pick up on that. I’m not a particularly keen allegorical thinker.

1 10 2010
Dan

I didn’t think much of the film. Thought it was too long and too long-winded. It failed to really engage me.

1 10 2010
Colin

My favourite Fincher by miles. I’m not a big fan of his, truth be told, but this one was spectacularly good and authentic.

2 10 2010
Frank Mengarelli

I mean, this movie is great.

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