In my Out of the Late Winter Slump blog, I talked about Zodiac, saying that "even though this looks like a run-of-the-mill serial killer film, it is directed by David Fincher (the man behind Fight Club and Seven). That name alone makes me interested." And now that I've seen it, I must say that if you're a fan of David Fincher. See. This. Movie.
Looks can be deceiving, though. The trailers make this film look like some high suspense thriller, but it's not. It's an intelligent, intriguing study of obsession. Not the obsession of a faceless serial killer, but the obsession of the three men trying to find him is what this story truly revolves around.
First, there's Inspector David Toschi, played by Mark Ruffalo, an SFPD officer who gets so wrapped up in finding this man that he visits one of the crime scenes every year. When Toschi finds the man he's sure to be Zodiac, he looks for any way to get the warrants he needs to bring him to trial. But when Toschi, his partner, (played by the quietly wonderful Anthony Edwards), and a host of other policemen can't find enough proof, the devastation on the detective's face is utterly heartbreaking.
The second obsessive player is Robert Downey, Jr's crime reporter Paul Avery. Avery, at first, is simply interested in a good story, but quickly he finds himself chasing leads and corrupting evidence in order to get his answers. From now until eternity, Downey Jr. will always be typecasted as the addict, but I must say, he does play it so well. His Avery is equally cynical and intellectual, as well as dysfunctional and amusing.
The third--and most intriguing--obsessed man is Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). Graysmith is a cartoonist for The San Francisco Chronicle who goes from mere interest in the Zodiac's codes to all out unhealthy craving for the truth. He begins as a timid man who looms over Avery's desk to being Avery's go-to guy for working out the details of Zodiac's mysteriousness. As years pass, Avery and Toschi soon find an acceptable peace with the unsolved case, but Graysmith can't let it go. Even if he can't arrest the Zodiac, he must know who is behind the illusive killer.
The story of these three men, especially Graysmith (upon whose book the film is based), is what grabs you when you see this movie, not the murder scenes. You're along for the ride with these guys, half hoping they'll find who they're looking for, and half hoping they stop before it ruins them for good.
If you're looking for a happy ending, you're not going to get it here. There's no made-up-for-the-movies ending where the cops catch the bad guy just as he's about to allude them for the umpteenth time. (Sorry if I ruined anything for you, but history will tell you that the Zodiac case is still unsolved.) What you will get from Zodiac is a fully satisfying film with an ending that might bring you the peace you've been hoping for the entire 160 minutes.