Monday, 30 April 2007

Zodiac 2007

Those wonderful people at Warner Bros (UK) sent Peter Guttridge and I an invite to an advance screening of Zodiac (out in the UK on 18th May). As Mr G is our main media man (you can read his column Screen Crime on the Shots website, I left it to him to write up his views:

The press release for this based-on-true-life movie calls Zodiac the ultimate cold-case. It is certainly up there with the Black Dahlia and Jack the Ripper. In the 1960s and 1970s a serial killer stalked the San Francisco area, murdering his victims in a variety of ways. His signature wasn’t anything he did to the victims, it was the series of letters he sent over decades in his own code to taunt the police, all signed “The Zodiac”.

His killings were the source for “Dirty Harry”. The detective who doggedly investigated the real case was the basis for Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callaghan in that movie, Steve McQueen’s renegade detective in “Bullitt”, and – apparently – Michael Douglas’s detective in the TV series “The Streets of San Francisco”.

That detective is played by Mark Ruffalo in David Fincher’s detailed analysis of the Zodiac killings in this powerful movie. Ruffalo’s character is one of four characters who become obsessed with the case. His sidekick (Anthony Edwards from ER) is the least significant and bails out of the case – though after about a decade(!). A journalist, Paul Avery (brilliantly played by Robert Downey Jnr), kicks the investigation off but then his substance abuse proves a problem. It’s the fourth man, a nerdy political cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal in another great performance) who follows the story through – and who, in real life, came up with what he felt was a solution to the identity of the Zodiac killer.

This is a terrific, albeit long, film. Fincher, best known for Seven, eschews his usual gloom and shade for a brightly lit scenes (shot on HD digital video) which makes the (few) scenes of death even more chilling. The brightly lit scenes in the news rooms of the journalist characters are a clear homage to director Alan J Pakula’s decision in “All The President’s Men” to present journalistic truth in a place with no shadows. (“Journalistic truth” – now there’s a phrase.)

This is like “All The President’s Men” in that it is a fact-based thriller. Fincher and his scriptwriters have been scrupulous in covering all the facts of this case. They have the identity of the killer and the argument is convincing.

The main drawback in the film is that the characterisation doesn’t really exist. Downey Jnr and Ghylenhaal do flesh out their characters (I’ve never rated Ruffalo) but because the film has to get so much detailed information in, characterisation isn’t a priority.

A Fincher film in daylight is a rare and wonderful thing. My admiration.

ZODIAC (2007)
Director: David Fincher
Featuring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jnr, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox

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