Saturday I saw Zodiac with Matt Mangum. The theater, I think it's worth mentioning, was filled with dudes. A lot of those dudes were in their early to mid-20's.
The previews may be a bit telling as to the appetite of the "target" audience for a movie like Zodiac.
trailer #1) Bruce Willis in a hair piece and slimmed down is a magazine publisher who is meeting girls online and killing them.
trailer #2) Anthony Hopkins kills his wife, or does he? Is he merely pulling more flies into his daibolical spider's web?
trailer #3) Teen-age "Rear Window". A seemingly normal guy living next door to a kid with a police-installed ankle bracelet sees his neighbor killing people. he sends the minority-guy best-friend to his doom.
Zodiac is, ostensibly, a serial killer movie. Zodiac was one of those names that used to be brought up in news reports alongside names like Son of Sam, the Green River Killer, John Wayne Gacey, Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, and more recent acquisitions to the pool of whackos. Operating during the 1970's, Zodiac claimed to have killed dozens. But as Zodiac is real, and was never caught, short of writing speculative fiction, there shouldn't be much of a narrative angle to the story. Heck, they finally even made an arrest in the Green River killings a few years ago, so that story has some closure.
Instead of telling yet another post "Silence of the Lambs" serial killer story, Zodiac works more like a bit of a detective story, following a few key players in the Zodiac investigation from 1969 through the 00's as various real-life people become pulled into the investigation. Some viewers may find the film's refusal to cast any specific person as the point of view for teh audience a bit troubling, but in a lot of ways, that would take away from what director David Fincher seemed to be attempting in representing the facts of the case as a drama.
The movie is far more interested in the manner in which the investigations occured than dwelling over the grim details of the murders. Once Fincher provides the audience with a fairly brutal look at the murders (not for shock value as much as to contextualize the action to follow), the story begins to unfold in a series of frustrating stutter steps. Real-life jurisdictional disputes, human foibles, arrogance and simple mistakes may have left multiple law-enforcement teams unable to piece together the identity of the murderer.
With three sensationalistic serial killer movies previewed before this movie, there's a certain maturity I could appreciate regarding Fincher's decision not to romanticize, glorify or mystify the subject matter. It doesn't take a huge leap to see that Zodiac isn't regarded as any kind of genius by the filmmakers, and no attempt is made to make much out of him other than as a brutal megalomaniac.
There are a few narrative tricks I enjoyed that seemed to be the Fincher's "up yours" to the Zodiac, and once you see what he's doing, you sort of want to send Fincher a big valentine.
There's a lot to this 2.5 hour movie, but, for me, it never dragged, and I thought that the script and actors did an excellent job of presenting some seemingly mundane but convoluted case work as succinctly as possible.
Performances are very good. Robert Downey Jr. plays himself (can't wait to see his Tony Stark), Jake Gyllenhaal has a lot to carry, and does it well. Mark Ruffalo really surprised me. And even Dermot Mulroney may have found his niche. Apparently some guys behind us had an issue with Chloe Sevigney not being "hot" enough for them, but that died down quickly. And feature film fixture Brian Cox was excellent in his scenes (man, I love Brian Cox).
You can't really say "Hey, Zodiac is a fun movie!". It's not. But it is an interesting movie, and, if like the film's Robert Graysmith, you enjoy puzzles... or if you dont mind a little detective work in your movies about detectives, it's not a bad way to spend 2.5 hours.
The movie certainly makes a case for identifying a certain player by film's end, drawn from the work of amateur sleuth Robert Graysmith. As with any real-life mystery presented as a film, and with only the facts of the film to work with, the finger pointing seems as reasonable with their choice of suspect as anyone. If true, it's fascinating to consider. Fincher is smart enough to leave it somewhat open ended, but with Graysmith working on the film, the film manages to bring some closure, if not a conviction.
I did read on someone's blog that they felt that with today's police tactics that such a case could never occur again. I assume he was referring to cross-referencing of data, etc... I'm not so sure. Computer systems are only as good as the people using them. Cops are only as good as the evidence they find and can prove in court. Juridictional issues are always jurisdictional issues, and if we learned anything from 9/11, it's that data that should and could be shared often doesn't make it into the hands of the right people.
As Matt and I were sort of trapped on the seats in the aisle when the credits rolled, I heard the same conversation three times from those young men who filled the threater.
"I thought it was going to be... you know..."
"Dude, it's a true story."
"I know, but..."
"They can't just make stuff up."
"Yeah, I guess not."
So, yes, if you're expecting Saw IV, you might be disappointed.