Remember how I used to do lots of movie reviews? Well, here we go again—finally! I saw ZODIAC today and I’m going to try like the dickens to catch 300 next week. Keep in mind that there’s a SPOILER section at the end of the commentary, okay? However, if you know anything about the Zodiac case, what’s contained in that paragraph won’t be much of a surprise.
Now…on with it.
Quite by accident, I’m actually listening to the audio version of ZODIAC on my iPod. I downloaded it months ago because I wanted to get into the “serial killer” groove for an atmospheric thriller proposal, but as that project was pushed to a backburner, so was my ZODIAC time. Honestly, the recording of Robert Graysmith’s book is a tad dry, but I can’t say the same thing about the movie that was adapted from this work.
My God, seeing one of the first murders played out on screen before my eyes repelled me…and sucked me right into the vortex of the investigation that takes up much of ZODIAC’s screen time.
As a matter of fact, the film managed to keep me riveted the entire duration. It’s directed by David Fincher—he of SE7EN and PANIC ROOM fame—but this film seems to mark a turn in style for him. This isn’t a film student’s wet dream like FIGHT CLUB (which I liked--don't get me wrong). In fact, Fincher seems to have embraced substance over style, giving us a haunting story that plows through waves of incoming information. The pacing never lags. And, although the viewer will have to pay close attention to all the fast-and-furious details, the plot is so streamlined that confusion isn’t an issue. That’s a real trick, especially considering how dozens of characters are used to take us through the Zodiac investigation maze. And, amazingly, those characters are well-drawn, even if some of them have minimal screen time.
But beware—if you go into ZODIAC thinking you’re going to get a thriller, this is the wrong movie. Sure, there are a few hair-raising scenes that show the murderer at work—scenes in which the violence isn’t over the top, but is still incredibly visceral. (Just a side note: I was sitting in my seat going, “I wish these people had read THE GIFT OF FEAR!!!!!” A lot of suspense is derived from watching the victims act too late on the obvious doubts they’re having about interacting with a stranger approaching their car or their picnic, etc. These simple scenes are hand-over-the-eyes good because they’re so possible.) However, instead of using the murders themselves as a focal point, most of ZODIAC concentrates on the investigators who tried to go head-to-head with the killer. In fact, and the story doesn’t so much concern the triumph of justice over evil as it does the cost of pursuing that justice.
SPOILER CITY: STOP READING IF YOU WANT TO REMAIN PURE.
It’s especially sad to see how the Zodiac killer succeeds in not only murdering bodies of his victims, but in murdering the souls of those who chased him, as well. It seems as if he designed his ciphers and crimes more out of a need to screw with the living than with the dead. As he hopped from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, making crime solving difficult, we see just how much of a game player this killer was and we understand why he was never definitely identified. What a risky proposition this is in storytelling: you can’t reshoot the ending to have Glenn Close popping out of a bathtub only to be cathartically blown away by the wronged wife, you know? You’ve got to stick with what’s true: that there were strong suspects, but the magic evidence that would erase all doubt never surfaced.Fascinating stuff, this movie. I’m champing at the bit to start listening to my book again….