For many years, David Fincher has been one of my favorite directors in Hollywood. Some of his films I love include Se7en, Gone Girl, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. I have heard countless praise about Zodiac over the years and I finally decided to check it out after a close friend strongly encouraged me to watch it. After viewing the film on Netflix, I completely understand the hype.
Based off the book by Robert Graysmith, Zodiac takes place during the late 1960s and early 1970s as three men, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) investigate the mysterious serial killer, the “Zodiac Killer.” He terrorized the Bay Area as he taunted the police and newspapers with ciphers, piece of clothing from his victims, letters, etc. It is one of the most famous unsolved murder cases in American history and the film’s happenings are all based on real events.
Before I address why this film is so good, I must praise the performances of the three lead actors. Gyllenhaal serves as the protagonist of the film, a role he nails in this movie. At first, he hangs around in the background, collecting information but in the third act, his obsession consumes him as he searches for the killer’s identity. Gyllenhaal portrays a man who was willing to go to great lengths to get the answers he wants and it is breathtaking to watch. This kind of role suited him perfectly and I am excited to check out more of his films.
Downey and Ruffalo are also fantastic as they investigate the “Zodiac Killer” in different ways. Avery is a crime beat-reporter and he writes about the killer often in the newspaper. It places a target on his back as the killer sends him a threatening card. Avery turns to drugs and alcoholism, which Downey at the time was just starting to overcome his issues with alcoholism. Because of this, his performance felt even more real and impactful. As for Ruffalo, his investigation burns him out, leading him to feel fatigue about the case as the film progresses. I felt his pain and exhaustion as promising leads failed time and time again. Downey and Ruffalo’s chemistry was fantastic in the scenes they shared together, demonstrating why Kevin Feige wanted Ruffalo to play Hulk in The Avengers.
Outside of the acting, the two biggest reasons this film is fantastic are the writing and visual style of the movie.
The writing, by James Vanderbilt, in Zodiac is phenomenal. The film is one giant investigation and the way it is portrayed is incredible. The actors give emotional performances, yes, but what sold me on the whole story is the way the interactions, meetings, news updates add to the tension and mystery of the case. The dialogue carries a lot of weight in each scene, making me interested always despite the 156-minute runtime. I am a sucker for mysteries and this film presents a fascinating one, despite it being common knowledge the “Zodiac Killer” was never caught in real life. The way the story progresses makes me forget that, a testament to the film’s writing.
As one can always expect from a Fincher film, Zodiac looks tremendous. There are scenes showing jumps in time which were done with CGI, which all look realistic and I forget in the moment I am watching a CGI-filled scene. The camera work is another strength of this movie, allowing me to feel like I am there with the characters investigating this case. While the movie doesn’t hit me on deeper emotional levels, the technical aspects of the film make it feel realistic as if I’m watching the events play out in person.
Fincher also excels at creating tension, highlighted in Gone Girl, whose atmosphere is sad and terrifying. In Zodiac, this is also prevalent as the investigation scenes are adrenaline-filled, while scenes where the killer commits his crimes are filled with dread and horror. The atmospheres created for this film helped me invest in the case, making it a thrilling movie experience.
Overall, Zodiac is another brilliant David Fincher film. The acting combined with the writing and visual style of the film make it a must-watch movie. I highly recommend this film, especially as his newest film, Mank, will release on Netflix in the coming months.