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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Zodiac (2007)

By the time I was born in the Bay Area in 1981, the Zodiac Killer was a mere buzzword that people threw around to scare their kids. As the Age of Aquarius met its inevitable demise, so did the media’s preoccupation with the mysterious mass murderer who was never apprehended. One man, cartoonist and amateur code breaker Robert Graysmith, didn’t let it go; his obsession with the case rests at the center of David Fincher’s new film Zodiac.

Zodiac presents the case through the perspectives of four different hunters: Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), the San Francisco policeman who is looking to arrest him; Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) the reporter who wants a lead on him; Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) the everyday guy who simply wants to understand the killer; and, finally, the killer himself, who hunts for the thrill of the chase. The newspaper and police eventually zero in on Arthur Leigh Allen, who is identified as the most likely candidate in the film.

Zodiac is one of the better period pieces I have seen in a long time. Harris Savides's digital cinematography is on a whole new level; I never thought I would ever see that shade of 1970s yellow again. David Fincher decided to use the digital Thomson Viper to shoot the film. The Viper is able to shoot with extremely low light levels and at very high resolutions. Zodiac is the first full length film shot entirely with a Viper and, based on the clarity and richness of picture, I know that it will not be the last. The incredible cinematography, combined with set design and costumes brilliant in both their authenticity and their subtlety, make for a very realistic and believable film (which is, in many cases, the hardest quality to achieve when creating a period film).

Zodiac also doubles as a fascinating police procedural. The Zodiac killer murdered victims in several different jurisdictions; the investigation was hindered because the departments refused to cooperate and share information. As Dave Toschi reminds us, he doesn’t work like Dirty Harry; he has to follow procedure, even when it drives him crazy.

A lot of people have criticized Zodiac for its length of 160 minutes. I, for one, did not feel impatient in the theatre; I thought the pacing of the film was brisk and the performances good enough to keep me engrossed for almost three hours. If the movie has one flaw, it is that it never fully fleshes out its protagonist, Robert Graysmith, whose obsession with the case is never fully explored. Is it possible to lose your job, wife and kids simply because you like puzzles and want to look a killer in the eye? In spite of this weakness, the film redeems itself in the last few minutes with what is quite possibly one of the best-acted moments of film so far this year.

The amount of money I would pay to see this film: $8


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