Zodiac is the dramatization of the true events surrounding one of America’s most infamous serial murderers, The Zodiac Killer. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead, Donnie Darko) as Robert Graysmith, the San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist who remains obsessed with the case long after the police have resigned themselves to defeat. Graysmith becomes involved in the case when the killer begins to send taunting letters to police through the local newspapers.
The movie begins on July 4, 1969(?), on lover’s lane in the city of Vallejo, California. A young couple has parked in a secluded area, talking quietly. A set of headlights temporarily blinds their vehicle from the rear. Pausing nervously, they wonder aloud about their visitor. The boy is apprehensive. Just as their tension begins to mount, the car leaves as quickly as it arrived. Their conversation resumes. Now the car returns and blocks their escape. The driver exits and approaches their vehicle, aiming a bright flashlight. The boy thinks it’s a police offer, and begins to explain. Before he can complete his sentence, POP! The stranger is firing shots into the vehicle, the girl is screaming. When the stranger leaves, the girl is dead and the boy will be the one of the few witnesses to see the Zodiac and live to tell about it. It is this chilling opening sequence that introduces us to the Zodiac Killer, a man who wantonly terrorized the Bay area from approximately 1969-1975.
Directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), Zodiac is one part police procedural and one part murder mystery. At a lenghthy 2 1/2 hours, the movie is not without its slow moments, but for the most part it manages to hold your attention. This is due in large part to the aforementioned opening scene, as well as different murder scenes interspersed throughout the first half. The movie stalls when it lingers too much on the minutiae of the policework. Which brings me to Mark Ruffalo (Collateral), a highly regarded actor who has yet to impress me. He is adequate as Detective David Toschi, and certainly attractive, but his delivery was a bit too understated, in my opinion. He and Gyllenhaal were both so soft-spoken in Zodiac that it started to annoy me. Anyway, Zodiac is not without its listless moments, but it picks up once Gyllenhaal’s character gets more involved in uncovering the killer’s identity. I also enjoyed the introduction of different suspects, each of them plausible in their own way. Robert Downey Jr. is also featured as Paul Avery, a Chronicle reporter who becomes consumed with the case, only to succumb to that obsession, ending up a washed-up alcoholic.
Fincher captures the time period in dark fashion, using the same muted, orange-tinged hue found in Se7en. Zodiac doesn’t compare to his previous gems, but it is a solid addition to his body of work. Gyllenhaal isn’t exactly a revelation, but he’s an amazing actor and I bet if I saw the real Robert Graysmith I would see that he nailed the performance. I think fans of Fincher and/or Gyllenhaal should check out Zodiac off GP. It was interesting, if nothing else — even though my eyelids got heavy once or twice.