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Zodiac (2007)

We here at 3guys would like to welcome another new writer Sean Daly, Sean will be doing some reviews, some articles, amongst other things.  Sooner or later we will get all our writers to do a biography so you can get to know them better but for now here is Sean’s first post.

For me, the allure of a movie is neither the stars nor subject matter but, rather, the director.  Ideally, a director uses the actors, script, cinematography, special effects, etc . . . as his or her tools to tell a story. Unfortunately, in this age of watered down, focus group-approved drivel, the opposite generally holds true, as the majority of movies are tool-driven (“tool-driven” works to describe both the elements listed previously and risk-averse studio executives) with the director a mere puppet left to pull it all together, especially within the studio system.  One shining exception to this disturbing trend is David Fincher.  Never has his immense storytelling skill been on greater display than in his wildly underrated, should-be-classic, 2007’s Zodiac.


Written by: James Vanderbilt (Screenplay), Robert Graysmith (book)
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
Reviewed by: Sean Daly

Zodiac is less celebrated (and financially successful) than many of Fincher’s iconic works, such as Seven, Panic Room, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Social Network, but it stands alone as his finest film.  Much like the majority of those movies, Zodiac brings with it a high concept (a serial killer on the loose) and a direct connection to a celebrated writer or book (in this case, Robert Graysmith’s best sellers Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked serve as the basis for the story).  Unlike many of those films, however, Zodiac offers very little in terms of shock value, dark humor, or even emotion.  Think not heads in boxes or men aging in reverse but, rather, subtle terror that stays with you long after viewing.

A great deal of the film’s brilliance can be attributed to its casting.  Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the aforementioned Graysmith, a socially awkward cartoonist with the San Francisco Chronicle who transfers his interest with solving puzzles to an obsession with determining the identity of the Zodiac killer.  It’s a tricky role that requires him to command the screen while seeming way off-center, and Gyllenhaal, with his leading man looks and alien aura, is spot-on.  Equally impressive is the always-great Mark Ruffalo, who plays San Francisco Police Department Detective Dave Toschi, a man haunted by his inability to solve the complex case.  A pre-film franchise Robert Downey Jr. plays the typical pre-film franchise Robert Downey Jr. role to great effect: a sarcastic, self-destructive, sometimes mumbling crime reporter named Paul Avery.  Rounding out the great performances is John Carroll Lynch, perhaps best known for his work as Drew Carey’s brother-in-drag on The Drew Carey Show.  As Arthur Lee Allen, the man Graysmith ultimately determines to be the Zodiac killer, Lynch is given few scenes to make an impact and none with actual violence. Despite these hindrances, Lynch manages to leave a lasting, chilling impression.

The same can be said for Fincher, who skips the infinite number tricks in his director bag to largely perform unplugged.  Only one scene—where Graysmith finds himself in the home of the potential Zodiac killer—falls under the category of terrifying-in-the-moment.  Even the murder scenes are presented in almost matter-of-a-fact, detached fashion, intended more to reflect the point-of-view of a man who lacked humanity than his innocent victims.  Of course, such a presentation robs viewers of the visceral experiences they so enjoy during “serial killer” mysteries.  It was a brave approach on Fincher’s part that likely cost the film dollars but not quality points.  Zodiac represents both a master filmmaker telling his best story and one of the top films of its decade. If you, like many, haven’t seen it, you now have the easy opportunity to do so via Netflix.

–Sean Daly

3guys copy



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andrew August 29, 2013, 6:14 am

    Brilliant film, and wonderful review! I couldn’t agree more with you on Fincher. He makes his own rules as a director, and I applaud him for that.

    • Sean August 29, 2013, 1:12 pm

      Thanks, Andrew! Yes, Fincher is enormously gifted and I can honestly say I don’t think he’s ever missed with any of his films. I admire how he refuses to be any one thing as a storyteller.

  • mummbles August 29, 2013, 8:25 am

    Loving these older movies that should have got more praise reviews. Zodiac was by far my favorite movie of 2007. Well directed and acted, this one should not be missed by fans of cinema.

    • Sean August 29, 2013, 1:13 pm

      I couldn’t agree more, mummbles. It’s re-watchability (is that a word?) is off the charts, too.

  • Adam August 29, 2013, 10:52 am

    welcome aboard Sean.

    • Sean August 29, 2013, 1:13 pm

      Thanks, Adam! I love the site. It’s great to be here!

  • Chip Lary August 29, 2013, 12:04 pm

    Well, I’m the opposite of you in that I couldn’t care less what the name of the director is. Give me a great story and I’m almost always going to like the movie.

    Having said that, I like Zodiac, perhaps not to the extent of calling it the best film Fincher has done, but to the extent that it told its story effectively. It helped that I knew little about the Zodiac killer before I saw the film.

  • Sean August 29, 2013, 1:19 pm

    Hi Chip. I think we are saying more or less the same thing in that we are both drawn to stories, not individual entities (be it actor or director) or concepts. The Zodiac story is a fascinating one and the fact Fincher could find so many other stories within the mystery (a guy throwing away his marriage; bureaucratic incompetence; journalistic and law enforcement ethics) only made it better. Great to hear from you!

  • Thomas August 29, 2013, 9:26 pm

    I rather disliked the film when it came out (fabulous photography and production design, script too chatty, to sum up my original assessment), upon watching it again last year I revised that opinion, however, it grows on you (on me at least) and I could imagine that it will become one of those classics that stick around for quite a while. After reading your review I actually feel like watching it again… http://thomas4cinema.com/2012/04/20/zodiac-david-fincher-2007/

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 6:56 am

      Agreed, Thomas. For whatever reason (and sometimes these things can be hard to define), it’s the type of movie a person can watch again and again after not necessarily blowing the viewer away the first time.

  • Dan O. August 29, 2013, 9:31 pm

    Long, but never feels like it because Fincher’s direction just never lets up. Which is even more impressing, considering we all know what the ending is, yet, the mystery still lies. Nice review.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 7:03 am

      Excellent point about Fincher retaining mystery even though we know the nuts and bolts of the story. I credit the framing device of the lone survivor getting shot as a kid at the beginning and then emerging as an adult (By the actor who plays the leader of the McPoyle Clan, no less! Sorry, that was an unnecessary It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia reference.) to indentify Zodiac but not that convincingly, which makes the viewer both wonder if Graysmith is correct and reinforce, yet again, the total cluster that was that investigation.

  • Nick August 29, 2013, 11:56 pm

    Zodiac is Fincher’s masterpiece. That is all.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 7:04 am

      Agreed, Nick. He’s actually had a lot of masterpieces but I think Zodiac was his best by a hair over Social Network.

  • Movie Review World August 30, 2013, 2:47 am

    Excellent review Sean. I caught this film for the second time only a few months ago and I must say, this film represents a director at the top of his game. I love the almost detached feeling it presents throughout, never forcing the audience to feel a certain way or manipulate the viewers emotions. Each murder case as well as the murders themselves are presented as like a report which is of-course a brave move for a film maker but ultimately shows how strong his vision was. An outstanding film in every sense of the word.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 7:08 am

      Thank you for the kind words! I couldn’t agree more about Fincher’s work here. He obviously seemed to anticipate what people would think about the man who directed Seven taking on another serial killer movie, albeit factual in this case, and decided to go against people’s pre-conceived notions of how it would come out.

  • Evan Crean August 30, 2013, 4:42 am

    I recall being pretty underwhelmed when I saw Zodiac. I think the reason I couldn’t get into it is the detached storytelling and simplistic approach that you mention. By no means did I think it was a terrible film, but I felt very meh about it.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 7:09 am

      I hear you, Evan. It certainly wasn’t what I expected the first time I saw it and my appreciation grew after a second viewing.

  • Rodney August 30, 2013, 4:55 am

    While I wouldn’t class Zodiac as Fincher’s best work *ahemFightClubahem*, in terms of story and execution it’s certainly one of his most straightforward. The tension towards the end is palpable, and the scenes with the Zodiac killer are frightening in their raw terror.

    A truly great film, with a terrific performance by Gyllenhaal.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 7:12 am

      You definitely can’t go wrong with any number of Fincher’s films, Fight Club included. I think Zodiac was very different in that Fight Club was highly stylized and unique in how certain scenes were done while Zodiac was very detached and straight forward.

  • Di August 30, 2013, 10:59 am

    It is without any doubt that ‘Zodiac’ has its share of faults. It was rightly pointed out that ‘Zodiac’ does not move on any emotional level whatsoever, but what unsettled me most was that the film crew decided to be so faithful to the real events – that they opted for almost documentary-like feature. It was a brave move, which was not completely paid off. Also, I know of no decent (serious?) films (apart from this one!) with Robert Downey Jr. in it, and, in my opinion, they should have gone for another cast.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 1:17 pm

      At first I was going to howl in protest over your assertion RDJ hasn’t been in any decent serious films but, going through his IMDB, you aren’t far off. He was far and away the best thing in the otherwise horrible Less Than Zero but irritating as hell in the great Short Cuts. Interesting take…

  • scottydynamite August 30, 2013, 11:04 am

    I am certainly eager to give this another watch and psyched that I can do so via Netflix. I remember liking the movie but I think I will have a different perspective going in thanks to this write up. Another one in the queue

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 1:19 pm

      I think you will like it better next time around, Scott. It’s rewatchability as a thriller/crime drama rivals that of Anchorman as a comedy.

      • scottydynamite August 30, 2013, 6:51 pm

        I do love me some Anchorman and certainly eager to see part two of that series this fall.

  • Monkeyboy August 30, 2013, 11:55 am

    Nice review, and agree that it’s a bit underrated. It’s one of my favourite Fincher movies. He doesn’t show off with the camera, and I like that type of Fincher better than the Fincher of, say, Panic Room.

    A nice film to watch in a double bill with Dirty Harry, seeing as how that was influenced by the Zodiac killings.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 4:07 pm

      I’m sure there is documentation of this but I almost wonder if Eastwood and director Don Siegel’s intent with Dirty Harry wasn’t to create a franchise but to echo the frustration of many over the Zodiac killer not being caught through what amounted to a fantasy film? It was as if (and Mark Ruffalo has a few lines in Zodiac saying as much) they said, “what if all of this bureaucracy and letter of the law just didn’t matter?”

      • Monkeyboy August 31, 2013, 10:34 am

        I think I remember reading something like that too. The film came out pretty close to the Zodiac killings. Dirty Harry must’ve been a pretty raw experience for a lot of San Francisco residents. But like you say, a comforting fantasy of sorts.

  • ruth August 30, 2013, 1:22 pm

    This is one from Fincher I’ve missed out on. I’m not fond of Gyllenhaal, but I like RDJ so that evens out, ahah. I’ll give it a rent one of these days.

    • Sean August 30, 2013, 1:24 pm

      It’s on Netflix, too, Ruth. Gyllenhaal can irk me at times, too, but he’s very good in this movie.

  • Sean August 30, 2013, 1:23 pm

    I’m sure there is documentation of this but I almost wonder if Eastwood and director Don Siegel’s intent with Dirty Harry wasn’t to create a franchise but to echo the frustration of many over the Zodiac killer not being caught through what amounted to a fantasy film? It was as if (and Mark Ruffalo has a few lines in Zodiac saying as much) they said, “what if all of this bureaucracy and letter of the law just didn’t matter?”

  • BrikHaus August 31, 2013, 7:57 am

    I haven’t seen this one in years, but yeah, it’s a great movie. Nice review.

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