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Zodiac: A David Fincher Film

By Janet Walker

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Zodiac delivers more than just more movie for the money. Every minute holds your attention. At just over 2 ½  hours it shifts from frightening to engrossing to consuming and then you leave: Haunted.

The movie opens on July 4, 1969, the Summer of Love, with an immediate heightened sense of expectation with cherry bombs exploding, sparklers whizzing and firecrackers popping you know trouble is around the corner. The characters retreat to seclusion and the Zodiac appears.

On set with Zodiac Director David Fincher.

Zodiac Director David Fincher, squeezed a decade long manhunt complete with a full scope picture of times, seasons and events, allowing the intelligence of the viewer to be active in filling in minor details of time through external events that shaped the lives of the characters.

Robert Downey Jr. is back with another excellent performance as Paul Avery, crime beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and eventual target of the Zodiac killer. Downey plays a young hotshot reporter in the late 1960's in a city known as the birthplace of the Hippie Movement, The Haight, and The Grateful Dead.

Robert Downey, Jr's., first encounter with The Zodiac.

The murders go largely unnoticed by the national press until a riddle of codes using the Greek Alphabet arrives in a letter to the three major newspapers in the San Francisco area with demands and ultimatums if the demands are ignored. The letters detail the coldness of the Zodiac's mentality.

Avery became both target and victim finally falling prey to his desires to get the story and the borderline he skated with his own personal addictions. He, like all characters, eventually become the Zodiac's victim.

Robert Downey, Jr. as crime beat reporter, Paul Avery with Jacob Gyllenhaal as Graysmith.

San Francisco Chronicle Cartoonist Robert Graysmith, played by Brokeback Mountain's, Jacob Gyllenhaal, was tossed into the Zodiac sphere by luck of the draw. He attended an Editorial meeting and was introduced, like the others, through the letters. He, too, became consumed with Zodiac, following leads like a detective, frantic in his passions, reckless, at times, in his pursuits, enlisting every police agency involved to assist his addiction, until he eventually published a book detailing the events.

The murder scenes reflect the attitudes of a time earlier in America prior to Global Terrorism, prior to the destruction of the American ideal, prior to the "see a freak get up and leave" precaution that is imbedded in our mentality.

Elias Koteas, Anthony Edwards, Mark Ruffalo facing the Zodiac, John Carroll Lynch.

Anthony Edwards performance, as San Francisco Police Department Inspector William Armstrong, plays true to the detailing work necessary prior to the use of DNA and other criminal sciences available today. He is paired, on-screen, with Mark Ruffalo, the animal cracker eating Inspector David Toschi, who eventually becomes central in Graysmith's pursuits.  Both characters are consumed, as are all the principals, in trying to find the Zodiac.

Elias Koteas, a twin of Law and Order's Christopher Meloni, is engrossing and determined with the greatest potential of catching the Zodiac. His face is familiar and engaging as a character.

Mark Ruffalo, as Inspector David Toschi with Jacob Gyllenhaal.

The characters stay true to the mental exhaustion associated with this type of all consuming investigation. Exhibiting the mental strains of knowing the identity of the main suspect and the inability to make the arrest based on the evidence available taxes both their personal and professional relationships.

The most haunting character is, of course, the Zodiac, played by John Carroll Lynch. In a time when circumstantial evidence was enough and gut instinct was the rest Arthur Leigh Allen was the prime suspect and was eventually identified by a surviving victim as the shooter. This made Allen the Zodiac by his own admission.  Allen died of a massive heart attack without ever being arrested for any of the murders.

Jacob Gyllenhaal, as Robert Graysmith, with Chloe Sevigny.

There are riveting performances, almost cameo, that are deserving of mention. Iona Skye as potential Zodiac victim exhibits the trusting attitudes of the 60's and Chloe Sevigny, as Melanie the wife of Robert Graysmith, troubled by her husband's addiction.

The 160-minute running time never slips into boredom and maintains the attention of the audience. This is a must see. Be prepared, the murder scenes are graphic and random and there are brief visual homosexual references.

Designated Zodiac photos courtesy of www.ign.com.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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