Who would have thought that a filmmaker who has taken on aliens, fight clubs and the seven deadly sins could come out of five years of seclusion and release one of the most engaging and sprawling American pop epics? Though this may be the second time David Fincher has tackled serial killers, Zodiac proves to be the filmmaker’s most mature and substantial work yet.
While previous successes like Seven and Fight Club were taut, entertaining dramatic thrillers, the departure he makes with Zodiac may come as a surprise to many of “Finch’s” cult following. Clocking in at two hours and forty minutes Fincher has to cover a lot of ground, chronicling the nearly decade long history of cat and mouse games played by The Zodiac Killer and the San Francisco Bay area. Where other director’s have tried and failed to capitalize on the subject matter, Fincher, who grew up in the area that the proverbial boogeyman was claiming his victims, translates his childhood nightmares to the big screen through an engrossing story of obsession.
Zodiac from start to finish is the story of Robert Graysmith’s descent into mania over his fascination with the notorious killer. Graysmith, the author of the nonfiction novels upon which the screenplay by was based, quickly becomes engrossed in the mystery of these seemingly unconnected strings of murders. From the moment The Zodiac sends his first letter to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 claiming responsibility for two separate, gruesome murders we watch as Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes from being a mere spectator to the last remaining hunter of the killer, going so far as to attract the attention of The Zodiac to himself.
While there are several gruesome murders staged by Fincher in Zodiac, the film is more along the lines of a newsroom drama like All the President’s Men. Thanks to Fincher’s mastery of maintaining dramatic tension, piecing together clues from evidence collected by Detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and chasing down anonymous tips with zany reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) becomes a mesmerizing, communal experience. Every time the characters find a new lead to fuel the chase, the audience becomes thoroughly engaged in the plot. With every stumbling block they encounter, the picture forces audiences to share the character’s maddening frustration.
Though it takes an incredible balancing act to make a film that is nearly three hours in length, Zodiac is the first picture to accomplish this feat since Hobbits last graced the big screen. Though quite a bit of this achievement should be credited to the Oscar worthy performances of Gyllenhaal, Ruffalo and Downey, it is Fincher’s vision which makes Zodiac so successful.
Though the tension and dark humor that carries Zodiac might seem like familiar Fincher, don’t expect the MTV shooting and editing style that have been featured in his previous works. Fincher even went back and reshot several key scenes in Zodiac to make sure that the focus was placed primarily on the story at hand. The results are spectacular.
While shots from Fight Club and Panic Room seemingly existed in an empty vacuum of style, every camera angle in Zodiac serves to further the story. Don’t expect the camera to go through floorboards and walls, Fincher has finally found a way to balance what is visually enticing with how to tell an absorbing story.
Speaking of visuals, credit has to be given to cinematographer Harris Savides for creating a moody, film look on high definition video. Still thought by many stuffy Hollywood hotshots to be an inferior visual medium, Fincher and Savides have added yet another gorgeous example as to why films shot in HD are a force to be reckoned with.
With Zodiac David Fincher has moved from merely being a stylistic director of a handful of cult classics into a master filmmaker. The five year hiatus and the engrossing obsession with The Zodiac Killer have served the filmmaker well; he has harnessed his keen visual style with his storytelling abilities to create the first truly substantial piece of cinema in 2007.
-Joe Russo, MoviePulse