There are plenty of people who probably won’t like this film, and half way through I thought I’d be joining that list. You can hear Fincher ripping the conventions of cinema as you watch. You perhaps won’t enjoy it whilst it’s happening, but when the final credits roll, and you have time to reflect; you’ll admire it.
It begins with a murder. Sounds pretty conventional right? However it is the way that Fincher catches the sudden and oh so creepy extinguishing of young life in an instant that makes this one stick with you. Even more so in the ominous serial killer’s second dose of screen time as he ties up two young lovers, shows them the loaded gun, but opts instead to stab them; the woman to death, the man not quite so. It’s not Hostel, but what it is the most realistic – and therefore, terrifying – depiction of stabbing that I’ve seen in a while. I’m touching wood writing this.
The men on the other side of the law consist primarily of Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. Ruffalo playing the real life hero cop inspiration for Steve McQueen in Bullitt, David Toschi, Downey Jr. the crime reporter Paul Avery, and Gyllenhaal as the plucky cartoonist Robert Graysmith.
Considering his hero cop status; Ruffalo doesn’t play him as a yippee-ki-yay poster boy, the character is real after all, and Ruffalo conveys professionalism and a frustration at leads lost and evidence escaped that I can assure you will be shared with the audience.
Downey Jr. seems to be wasted and quite frankly useless in terms of the plot. He shows up in flamboyant dress, makes jokes, follows the early killings, gets drunk, gets threatened and then drinks himself through a downward spiral that spits him out for a few forgettable scenes in the second half of the film.
Gyllenhaal is a bit meh. Not as agonisingly and excellently desperate as say (I can’t think of someone now, but they’ll come later), but he is likeable enough to see you through. His wife is portrayed by Chloe Sevigny, and she falls victim to the films utterly thankless role, breaking up the frantic investigation to nag for a bit and then disappearing off to let the plot go on.
You’ll have to stick with this one. It’s no Wolf of Wall Street running time but it’ll certainly begin to feel like it is. Many a NewsFeed was checked as my attention begin to wane slightly, but as I’ve said, you’ll need to stick with it. Many will persevere in the hopes of a big face off; a gargantuan brawl between Gyllenhaal and the Z-man himself that even I thought was coming following several anonymous phone calls of heavy breathing to Gyllenhaal’s house. I guess Fincher had to add some tension to the constant relaying of evidence. It worked; as the films begins to arrive at its closing half hour or so and the focus rests primarily on Gyllenhaal’s increasingly self-destructive investigation, the feeling of unease slowly increases, and its riveting stuff.
The pay-off instead comes in the form of a simple look; a definitive stare across a simple shop. It doesn’t sound exciting but give it some thought and it’s more pleasing. Offering closure to a long watch but also leaving enough open ends that the film will still be in your head a while later. I do admire a good old convention slash.
I should go on record saying that the prime suspect is played by the angry dad who attacks Steve Carell on the brilliant Crazy Stupid Love, so some of his fear factor is lost, but he’s still an unnerving presence.
Overall I have a high regard for Zodiac. It’s not as enjoyable as the anarchic and psychological cool of Fight Club, or the lightning fast punk atmosphere of The Social Network; it’s more classical and traditional, and that’s because the story demands it; real life doesn’t always work out the way it should. But it is through this unconventional presentation of a crime thriller that’ll leave you pleased. It’s not what you might have expected, it’s not what you might have wanted, but you’ll have enjoyed it nonetheless.