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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Film Review: Killer Zodiac Mesmerizes

Downey in Zodiac

I finally caught up with David Fincher's Zodiac on DVD and boy am I sorry I missed this in the theatre. Here's hoping that Warner Bros. and Paramount re-releases this for a late year Oscar push, (though its unlikely considering the crush of prestige films this fall). This is quite simply one of the most stunningly shot films of the last few years. The great cinematographer Harris Savides creates a San Francisco that goes from a spooky, gauzy dreaminess at the films start to a hard-edged bright dystopia as we head into the seventies. He is ably abetted by top-notch production design by Donald Graham Burt that brings the period to life. Check out the stunning opening sequence:

What puts this up with Fight Club as one of Fincher's masterpieces is the fusing of this meticulous attention to detail with a stellar cast and a mature, ruminative screenplay. Robert Downey Jr. is sardonic hard-living San Francisco Chronicle Reporter Paul Avery, Jake Gyllenhaal is quirky straight-laced Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, Mark Ruffalo is superstar San Francisco cop David Toschi and Anthony Edwards plays Toschi's levelheaded partner. All four of these actors are at the top of their game, and all portray characters drawn into the web of the Zodiac killer, with life altering results.

As befits a director who has clearly sweated every last period detail, this is not a procedural, a cat and mouse film, or a slasher pic. Rather it is a story about obsession. Late in the film, a character tells Gyllenhall that he has "the look." He doesn't know what she means but we d. It's the look of a man who is driven, the look that Downey has as he trades one addiction for another, the look Ruffalo has as he sees his case moldering, the look Edwards has as he lets go of the same case. Obsession spreads like a virus, from the Zodiacs letters seemingly to characters like Gyllenhaal's who are initially tangential to the hunt for the killer. As the trail goes colder and the paint on the pillers in the Chronicle's newsroom goes from hot red to cool blue, Gyllenhaal puts his marriage to Chloe Sevigny and his family aside in his quest. Eventually the Zodiac could be anyone or no-one, the heavy phone breather or the dedicated cop, just as Downey wonders at the beginning of the story whether Gyllenhall could be the killer. In the end Fincher seems to feel that they have a good idea who did it, but as with his characters there is enough ambiguity to leave a smidgen of doubt. That little bit of darkness is the shadow that cinematographer Savides spends the film chasing into the corner -- but he can never eliminate it.
Zodiac gets five out of five Golden Gates:

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