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.