Drama / Thriller
Presented By: Paramount Pictures
Directed By: David Fincher
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In 1969, a serial killer struck fear in the hearts of residents of the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The murderer, self-named The Zodiac Killer, had struck several times before in California, but had recently gone on a tear, beginning with an attack on a young waitress and her date while they were parked in a car at the Blue Rock Spring recreation area in Vallejo, California. The male, Mike Mageau, survived the attack. The woman, Darlene Ferrin wasn’t so lucky. Shortly after the attack, local newspapers received encoded letters from Zodiac, taunting police about future murders. Zodiac requested that the letters be published on the front page of the papers or more will die. The newspapers complied and thus began the terror felt by all in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Paramount Pictures release of Zodiac is based on a novel written by Robert Graysmith, a detailed account of the serial killer’s eleven-month murder spree and the unprecedented hunt for clues that would solve the mystery of the killer’s identity. Robert Graysmith, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, was a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle when the first of the taunting letters sent by Zodiac were received. He becomes obsessed with knowing the identity of the murderer and persists in his investigations long after the police have stopped. The movie chronicles Graysmith’s fervent hunt for clues to the Zodiac’s identity.
The movie stars a host of well-known actors including Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi, Anthony Edwards as Inspector William Armstrong, Robert Downey, Jr. as San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery, Elias Koteas as Vallejo Sgt. Jack Mulanax, Chloë Sivegny as Graysmith’s second wife, Dermot Mulroney as Captain Marty Lee, and many more. No role is too small in this film and viewers will discover a host of recognizable faces in small, but important roles. Every actor does an excellent job in portraying the tension and frustration that pervaded the atmosphere of this period in history. Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo’s portrayals of their roles perfectly embody that of men obsessed with their investigations to the detriment of all that would be otherwise more important in their lives.
The attention to detail in Zodiac is terrific. From the payphones and phone booths to the clothing of the era, no detail is left out. The makes and models of cars are spot on. There is even a scene in which, upon receiving notification via patrol car radio of a phone call, Inspector Toschi heads over to a Police Phone box and uses his key to unlock the box and call the station. Not many folks of the younger generation will remember the many strategically placed Police Emergency Phone boxes in use during that era, so perhaps I am dating myself in complementing the filmmakers in their use of such props, but I believed it to be a nice touch.
It was interesting to watch the reactions of the audience as the movie played. Individuals from the younger generation yelled out at the characters for being so trusting, while folks of the older set relived memories of the time and wondered where those pervading feelings of trust had disappeared to. The Zodiac Killer, The Son of Sam, The Boston Strangler and the like, all conspired to take away that feeling of safety and trust for the future generations. Watching the younger folks in the audience, I realized that they would never understand how safe we all believed the world to be, because most of them had been born years after these murderers terrorized innocent people. The younger generation’s precaution and lack of trust for the common man were taught to them by the folks who lived through these horrifying murders and wanted to protect their young.
I laughed as I heard someone suggest DNA evidence. At the time that these murders took place, DNA evidence testing was definitely not common place. Indeed, it was interesting to see how limited police investigators were in the late 60’s and early 70’s. One couldn’t imagine that the Zodiac Killer would have lasted so long in this new millennium of scientific crime scene investigation, but back then, investigators could only rely on fingerprints, handwriting analysis and gumshoe work to nab their criminals. Amazing what improvements on technology can occur in just a couple of decades!
As we left the movie theater, some of my counterparts complained about the length of the movie. While all remarked how well done the movie was, they stated that the length of the movie made them feel “antsy” and that at some points they just wished that the police would arrest the murderer already. While it is true that three hours is a long time to sit in one place, staring at a large screen in the dark, I think this time consumption was intelligently contrived. One reason could be that the makers of Zodiac wanted to give audiences as much of the facts about the case as possible. However, I think that the length of the movie also gave the audience a sense of the frustration felt by all throughout the investigation into these murderers. A sense of urgency as well as that of frustration permeates the entire movie, thus creating the “antsy” feeling felt by many as they stretched their legs and exited the theater.
One thing is for certain though – no matter how folks might have complained about the length of the film, not one person could say that Zodiac was not well-done. I would be hard-pressed to find a single person who did not enjoy the film – myself included. Yes, the movie is long, but definitely worth every minute!