Zodiac

Horror scope
Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre May 30, 2007

Zodiac
Directed by David Fincher
Based on the book by Robert Graysmith
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr.
R13/ 158 minutes
Warner Brothers Pictures
*** ½ (3 ½ stars)

Most suspense thrillers attempt to satisfy their audience with non-stop action chases, quick cross-cutting scenes, mega plot-twists and rising music. Meet the anti-thriller thriller.

Director David Fincher is best known for reshaping the crime thriller in the groundbreaking 1995 drama Se7en starring Brad Pitt. In that movie, two detectives (one of them played by Pitt, the other by Morgan Freeman) are thrown into the darkest pits of human behavior while on a chase to find a serial killer, known only as John Doe, who uses the seven deadly sins as MO.

In Fight Club (1999), Fincher vented suppressed male aggression when an unknown office employee (Edward Norton) and a soap salesman (Brad Pitt) start an organization that erupts into global anarchy. In both movies, the core of the narrative is a nameless person whose obsessions are hidden from the audience.

Unfortunately Fincher is also known to make typical Hollywood thrillers like Panic Room and the 1997 pseudo-reality thriller The Game starring Michael Douglas. So it is not surprising that a director who rarely makes movies would again try something different in the genre he is most literate with.

Zodiac is a retelling of the investigations on the Zodiac killer, who terrorized San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, and the lives of the policemen and a certain newspaper cartoonist whose quest to find the Zodiac would obsess them for many years. YEARS. That means this movie’s narrative takes long to unfold (2 hours and 38 minutes to be precise), and the director doesn’t intend to rush things. Nor does he reveal the identity of the criminal.

Robert Downey Jr. plays San Francisco Chronicle’s star reporter Paul Avery, who gets assigned to the story after the newspaper receives cryptic puzzles from the killer who calls himself Zodiac. Taking an interest in the puzzles is the Chronicle’s resident editorial cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems to be very good at solving puzzles. Mark Ruffalo leads the investigations as police Inspector David Toschi.

The investigation, which would last for decades and remain unresolved, would so consume Graysmith, Toschi and Avery that their relationships, their professions and even their physical health will surrender.

Utilizing a minimum of flair but still exuding a strong sense of foreboding, Zodiac is a very quiet, talky (meaning no big action sequences) almost CSI-like procedural on how the police would investigate such crimes. And since the investigation lasted for years and affected so many people, the filmmakers most likely wanted to make the audience feel the desperation, the madness and the loss of hope the main characters experienced, hence the slow, very deliberate revelations.

Downey is on fire as ace reporter Paul Avery, who seem to be an alter ego of the actor who himself famously battled substance addiction. A nomination for his portrayal isn’t surprising. Ruffalo is equally intense as Toschi, whose passion as a professional gradually erodes as years pass and failure sinks in.

But the highlight of the movie is when the investigators confront their number one suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen (played by John Carroll Lynch). In that crucial scene, Allen coldly dismisses each accusation with the most believable of alibis, his detachment to the crimes so chilling, the creepy crawls under your skin. That scene will stick with the audience until the end, when Graysmith finally finds him working in a small hardware shop and looks him in the eye.

This is not the ordinary thriller. This goes beyond.

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