Zodiac (Paramount, R)

zodiac2Where Seven had exciting action scenes, Zodiac has exciting scenes of lots and lots of talking. Where Seven's pace was fast, Zodiac's is slow.





Although it is debatable just how far David Fincher's strayed from the genre, I'm sure that pretty much all of his fans are delighted he's making another serial killer movie. Of course, Fincher made his name as one of the most imaginative and solid modern filmmakers back in 1995 with Seven, which is maybe the only serial killer film of the past 20 years or so that deserves to be on the same shelf as The Silence of the Lambs. Still, one has to wonder if returning to the serial-killer genre is something that Fincher really wanted to do, or if it was something that he was pressured into by those who want him to repeat his past glories.

On that front, his new film, Zodiac, will likely disappoint a lot of people, at least mildly. Where Seven was dark, rainy, scary, edgy, and dirty, Zodiac is bright, idyllic, classically made, and clean. Where Seven had exciting action scenes, Zodiac has exciting scenes of lots and lots of talking. Where Seven's pace was fast, Zodiac's is slow (it clocks in at over two and a half hours). That said, Zodiac is a very solid film that will reward repeat viewings; I just don't think it is the film that a lot of people are going to want it to be.

Zodiac is, of course, based on the real Zodiac killer who terrorized Californians in the late '60s and early '70s. The film takes great pains to recreate the story as accurately as possible (it is based on Robert Graysmith's book, and Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is arguably the film's hero). The Zodiac killer at least seemingly randomly killed people, and then taunted the police and journalists with codes and phone calls and things of that nature that certainly seemed like they should have led to him getting caught, but just never quite did. The film Zodiac focuses on how the lives of those detectives and journalists were more or less ruined by working on the case and trying to solve Zodiac's puzzles—in addition to Graysmith, most notably there's Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and journalist Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), not to mention their families and colleagues and pretty much everyone who is remotely near them.

It is in this focus on obsession and failure that Zodiac will lose a lot of its audience, but where it gains mine. I like Seven as much as everyone else (I'm a sucker for movies where pretty much everybody dies), but I'm glad to see that Fincher has more on his mind. While The Game had its merits and, like Seven, pretty much everyone these days acknowledges the success of Fight Club, Fincher's most recent film, the very generic Panic Room, had me worried for his career. The conceit to wrap what is a custom-made Hollywood thriller (a real-life killer whose antics resemble the trickery of Jigsaw or John Doe? Amazing Hollywood didn't get to this sooner… Oh wait, they did) with a very inward drama of people whose lives are ruined by their jobs is just as edgy as anything in Seven or Fight Club. | Pete Timmermann



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