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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.55%
Average: 25%
Pretty Bad: 2.27%
Total Crap: 3.41%

8 reviews, 40 user ratings

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Zodiac (2007)
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by brianorndorf

"The one where Mark Ruffalo finally learned to act"
5 stars

Back from a breather, David Fincher comes to “Zodiac” with a new sense of purpose. Pushing aside obvious cinematic invention, this serial killer drama is much more subdued than anyone could expect. It’s also terrific, drenched in ominous mood and staffed with a capable collection of actors.

In the five years since David Fincher last directed, he’s managed to calm himself down quite a bit. “Zodiac” is a cinematic straitjacket, urging the fastidious and visually inventive filmmaker to the one place he’s never visited before: restraint.

Starting in 1968, a faceless killer known only as “The Zodiac” terrorized Northern California with a killing spree that took five lives, but through a manipulation of the press, ended up terrorizing the entire state. “Zodiac” tells the story of the killer through Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who both led distinctive and comprehensive investigations into the Zodiac and his trail of hysteria and death.

Fincher’s last picture, 2002’s “Panic Room,” was a rousing bit of digital suspense manipulation. The director pushed the limits of technology to bring audiences into the black heart of fear, and the whole endeavor crackled with cutting-edge tension and participatory vigor.

While not a self-conscious polar opposite, “Zodiac” nevertheless stays simple and visually grounded. Even the opening titles lack zest. Fincher’s quest is to evoke the mood of the 60s and 70s, where newspaper journalism ruled and police procedures were still conducted through a cerebral cortex, not a hard drive. To accomplish this, Fincher shelves his usual bag of tricks and shoots the picture like a distanced classic Pakula film from the mid-1970s, down to the severe emphasis on character dimension over the sexual allure of thrill-based options. He even resurrects the old Paramount and Warner Brothers studio logos not flown in decades. Heck, this film wasn’t even shot on film and it still feels 30 years old.

Giving himself a leisurely running time of 160 minutes, Fincher wants the audience to feel the strain and dread the Zodiac killer instilled in the populace during the nearly 40 years the case was open. For Toschi, every clue collected ran into a brick wall, putting his job at risk when decades flew by without an arrest. He lost partners and his reputation chasing down this enigma and that disillusionment is perfectly realized by Ruffalo – here playing the most adult character he’s encountered to date with the most effort I’ve ever seen from him. Under Fincher’s roof, Ruffalo can’t get away with slack-jawed moping.

Graysmith’s story hangs lower in the murky background. Starting as a curious onlooker at the Chronicle, Graysmith, and in turn Gyllenhaal’s screentime, only comes into play for the film’s final act, where the cartoonist’s Zodiac inquisitiveness becomes too much to suppress, taking up the hunt long after the cops give up. The role plays well to Gyllenhaal’s innate facial expression of wide-eyed curiosity, and Fincher keeps the actor on task when the poison of the Zodiac question mark starts to taint Graysmith’s well at home (wife Melanie is played with Bailey Quarters-like reserve from Chloe Sevigny).

The true question of the film is, how can you satisfy an audience with a case that was never solved? Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (shockingly, the man behind the disasters “Darkness Falls” and “The Rundown”) put in quite the effort to conjure up a villain, but “Zodiac” is much more efficient and focused just breathing in the evocative San Francisco crime scenes and the mystery eating away at these men. It’s a very long 160 minutes, and I understand the need to send the audience out with some semblance of hope, but if you come to “Zodiac” looking for a resolution, I think you’ve missed the point.

A muted Fincher is still Fincher, and “Zodiac” gives the audience a matured filmmaker looking for new challenges in screen drama and different visual conquests. The trade off is an almost classically realized tale of desperation and fatigue that requires enormous amounts of patience and concentration to enjoy. The director is asking the audience to assume some of the effort here, and I hope it’s one viewers are willing to take.

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originally posted: 03/03/07 03:52:57
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell 2 long but chilling 4 stars
1/06/11 David A. Mostly a documentary, but it gets scary when the Wallace Penny character gets into it. 4 stars
12/31/10 Simon Interesting source material, nice directing doesnt save the bland writing/pace; forgettable 3 stars
10/16/10 montedelasánimas Scary, realistic, sometimes perversely fun. Don't miss it. 5 stars
7/24/10 bagwell5 One of the best movies of the last decade. Long running time but always fascinating. 5 stars
7/05/09 MP Bartley Repeat viewings reveal more and more. An American classic. 5 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. i loved it! 5 stars
7/27/08 Al from Bangkok Great. Nearly documentary in presentation, only riveting. 5 stars
3/05/08 ladavies Way too long, and not that memorable for me. 3 stars
1/23/08 Double M Finally a proper (and different) Fincher thriller, welcome back! Great directing and acting 5 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann The best serial killer movie since "Silence of the Lambs."Totally creepy & spellbinding! 5 stars
10/15/07 fools♫gold everything believable, everything enjoyable, everything just right 5 stars
9/01/07 Indrid Cold Well crafted but utterly bland, like a reenactment on Unsolved Mysteries. 3 stars
8/19/07 The Man If youre expecting a sensationalized thriller you may be disappointed. But its great. 5 stars
8/08/07 Dan Rizzi Terrific! Every performance here is outstanding, particularly Robert Downey Jr. 5 stars
8/05/07 Charles Tatum A modern day classic, riveting 5 stars
7/31/07 Monday Morning About 45 mins. too long, and Jake is about 150% too obsessed w/ the case. 3 stars
7/27/07 action movie fan good start but drags too much and has no suspense-a bit of a letdown 3 stars
7/03/07 William Goss Engrossing investigative epic is daunting in the best possible way. 4 stars
6/19/07 Jessiika My ass got really sore while i was watching it. I liked how he stabbed those people though. 3 stars
6/07/07 Germaine SO long. SO boring. Absolutely no depth or suspense. Terrible! 1 stars
5/23/07 MP Bartley Detailed, yet thoroughly absorbing. Superb performances. 4 stars
5/20/07 adam egas straight pimpin, loved it so much, soo good 1 stars
3/30/07 tracey I actually fell asleep and woke up to the cleaning crew staring at me. BORING. 3 stars
3/29/07 Lee A exciting thriller, that will haunt you long after the closing credit. 5 stars
3/21/07 carniv4 Good movie, but this tru story is not that compelling. Already forgotten it, 3 stars
3/17/07 Greg Holds your attention from start to finish, Downey is amazing! 5 stars
3/17/07 Jason Fisher Enthralling, absorbing from start to finish; no small feat for a movie nearly 3 hours long! 5 stars
3/14/07 Spark It BLOWS!!!! 1 stars
3/11/07 Pascal Boring, too long, no suprise, not even moving... very desapointing... 2 stars
3/10/07 dmitry Fincher's best because it doesn't just wallow in the grotesque 5 stars
3/06/07 Ryan Too long, too many details one some portions and not enough of others. Ending sucks 2 stars
3/06/07 George Jung Best film of 2007 so far. 5 stars
3/06/07 Luisa First half very engaging, but ran way too long... 4 stars
3/06/07 Gerald Sherfy Read the book instead; good performances and attention to detail but long in the tooth 3 stars
3/05/07 Edler Too long, no red-herrings, more like a documentary. But good to watch. 4 stars
3/04/07 Ole Man Bourbon Entertaining throughout its long run-time. Easy to recommend despite some reviews. 4 stars
3/04/07 E. N. Meticulously constructed; superlative filmmaking; a compelling and riveting film 5 stars
3/04/07 Shobert The longest episode of "Law & Order" I have ever seen. 3 stars
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  02-Mar-2007 (R)
  DVD: 24-Jul-2007

  18-May-2007 (15)
  DVD: 24-Sep-2007

  17-May-2007 (MA)

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