Quick Hit: Never generates the tension it so desperately needs, this thriller consistently lingers on characters incessantly.
Zodiac is a thriller that came out in 2007. I’m not really sure how I missed it the first time around – I actually think I owned the film for a time, and just never got around to watching it. However, when it appeared on Shannon’s portion of the Top 100, it was one that I was equally excited to watch. It stars three actors that I think are incredible, and also very underrated in their non-blockbuster roles – Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film, directed by David Fincher (Fight Club), follows a cartoonist (Gyllenhaal) who becomes obsessed with the Zodiac killer. It’s based on real people and a real killer.
I think this movie was decent, and above average. The performances by the main players are excellent, with Gyllenhaal being the stand-out as the obsessed cartoonist. He continues to show the darkness that was inside of him that is set for future roles (like Nightcrawler and Nocturnal Animals). He also plays the deer in the headlights better than anyone really (see Enemy). Downey Jr. continues to play his manic self to perfection, and Ruffalo is solid as an over-worked homicide detective.
The problem here is that the suspense never feels like it peaks, and instead sends the slow burn out with no real pay-off. In some sense, this works – the paranoia is felt throughout every character’s expression, every person’s movement, and camera movement. The movie also has moments (in a two and half hour film, it’s hard to avoid this) where it simply just explores leads that never pan out. While this happened in real life, in the movies, it feels extraneous and unnecessary.
The setting of the film, which is California, is perfect. Fincher sets up the different areas, from the scene at the lake where the two lovers get killed, to the dark, seedy underbelly of the city that is shown when the taxi driver is killed. It is an easy contrast between the two – one is full of light and yellows (which makes the impending death of the couple that much more horrifying), the other is shrouded in darkness and shadows. You continue to see this in Graysmith’s (the cartoonist) personal life as well. When we first meet him, he is constantly in well-lit areas. As the movie progresses, he frequently finds himself in shadow.
Another issue I had with the film is the fact that it frequently abandons different characters to focus on the others. I thought the film worked best in the beginning, when we were going from character to character. It gave the picture a forward momentum. The film stalls in the middle as we are left only with Ruffalo’s character doing the police work, and Downey falls off the map entirely. It succeeds in salvaging this mishap when the film pivots back to Gyllenhaal, who in turn begins interacting with the other characters once more.
This film is a perfect example of a near miss. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t perfect. I’m going to give it a “B-“.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"