Both lurid in its fact-checking euphoria and titillating in its methodic melody, Zodiac is anything but a thriller in any of the genre's preconcieved notions of exactly what a thriller should be, yet never, in any of its two hour and forty minute running time, and no matter how forensically obsesseed (or CSI-geeked) it may get, does the sense of threat ever dissapate. Of course, sharply focused and intensely played is no less than one would expect from the man who directed Se7en and Panic Room, and David Fincher's latest, his most maturely structured film to date, is also his best.
Taking place in San Francisco in the late sixties and early seventies and re-telling the story which gripped a nation for several (albeit sporadic) years - the search for a serial killer nicknamed the Zodiac killer - Fincher focuses not so much on who the Zodiac was (to this day he has never been identified) but instead on how the investigation worked and all the investigative motifs therein. Fincher also plays up the psyches of those involved in the investigation and how they were affected by the whole media circus surrounding it all. Helping Fincher do this is a cast that is all around supurb, beginning with Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi, the detective assigned to the case (and a mini fifteen minutes-esque celebrity, who apocryphally or not, had the role of Steve McQueen's Bullitt styled after him), moving on to Robert Downey Jr. as tabloid-edged newsman turned drugged-out, drunken has-been, Paul Avery (did he really need to do any research for this role do ya think?) and finishing with Jake Gyllenhaal as cartoonist turned obsessive nut case Robert Graysmith (on whose book the film is mostly based) the man who drives away his wife and children in his compulsive search for the Zodiac.
Playing at McLuhanian philosophies, Fincher delves into what drives, not the killer (though he does play at that as well), but what drives those around him - the police, the journalists, the general public - and what makes them react the way they do - not with fear as one would come to expect, but with an obsessive contempt and a possibly fatal curiosity. Possibly in the same vein as Oliver Stone - although without the excessive hooey associated with Stone - Fincher, as he did precariously in Se7en, points the camera not at his subjects so much as at his audience, saying that we are the true subject of Zodiac. It does make one wonder what a case like this (or any of the high profile cases of the time - Manson, Bundy, Gacy, Berkowitz) would be like in todays media-obsessed 24 hour news age.
Never downright scary (again this is not truly a thriller by thrillers standards) but still creepy enough throughout, Fincher's film, perhaps dragging at times, is a triumph in both procedure - Zodiac is much more Law & Order than Silence of the Lambs - and aesthetic mirrored delirium. I suppose you could say it is a procedurely perfect picture in every way. [03/03/07]