Whilst I’m watching movies, I tend to look for that defining image that sums up the whole thing in a single shot. A still frame of film where the director leaps out from the screen and says “This is my movie, this is the message I’m trying to project to you with my story”.
For instance, I believe the defining shot from Alfred Hitchcock’s undoubted classic Vertigo is the moment between James Stewart and Kim Novak on the rocks where Novak’s character Madeline says something along the lines of ”I don’t like it. Knowing that I must die”. That’s Hitchcock’s personal message coming out from the film of his own fear of death and knowing that one day he must die. A moment of embrace then occurs, a small moment of eternity alongside the world’s oldest living tree.
I believe David Fincher’s latest movie Zodiac has two moments of such revelation. The first being the image of the early pong machine at Paul Avery’s (Robert Downey Jr.) place where the ball keeps hammering home to the same spot, scoring each time. Relentless. It can never be stopped. The other being the moment where cop David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) goes to see the Dirty Harry movie.
Dirty Harry portrayed a movie where a reckless cop could track down a psycho serial killer, catch him and kill him within the 2 hours running time. Of course, in life we don’t have that luxury… and Ruffalo seeing that movie about San Francisco at the time these letters and murders were happening in the same place, must have just twisted that nail into his head even more.
In many ways this makes a nice companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige last year. This is a horrifying tale of obsession, where your goal becomes much bigger than your family and your own way of life. Indeed, you can link it to Batman Begins in that way as well. It’s about self-sacrifice, and devoting yourself to an ideal but just like Bruce Wayne can never stop the killings in Gotham and can never speak to his parents again, these cops will never find the Zodiac killer.
Although of course Wayne had nothing to lose, whereas these people lose everything because of the investigation. The thought of not catching the killer is killing them. There whole way of life is being destroyed because they can’t come to terms with the fact that this “Zodiac” killer who taunted them with cryptic letters, just one day stopped, uncaught. They can’t stop just as easy, they want and need to find this sick bastard and look into his eyes, so that he knows he has been found.
Whilst nowhere near as tight or as masterful as a film such as Se7en, Fincher has made a more straight forward movie where he just showcases a moment in the time of the investigation and then quickly moves onto the puzzle. The problem I found with this, is that one minute you have an exciting and potentially big revelation about the killer but then two seconds later it jumps so many more months into the future, and the last scene becomes obsolete. They still haven’t found the guy and the last clue didn’t really help.
Obviously Fincher has made a conscious decision to tell the movie just exactly how it went down but it’s a little disjointing and kept me as a viewer from getting too close to each scene as I knew it wouldn’t lead anywhere. Another problem I felt with the film was that we kept switching from the point of view of different characters and just as your getting comfortable with their narrative it switches to someone else.
For example. We don’t really get to know Jake Gyllenhaal’s character till the third act of the movie but as the film’s conclusions really come with his revelations, it’s a little hard to fully support him. In this movie he again plays an obsessive character but I felt like the innocence he has on screen didn’t really suit what he was doing. I’m not sure if he is a strong enough actor to carry it and although he was superb in the moments of that character’s terror, I failed to get behind him in his investigation into the Zodiac. The whole running time should really have been from his point of view, and I feel that if that had been the case, we might have felt a part of the film more.
Robert Downey Jr gets all the movie’s laughs but he again plays a self referential part which we have seen him do too often now. He is the drunk, smart ass guy who believes in his own hype and although some of his scenes were very funny… his character didn’t add anything to the film for me.
Mark Ruffalo is the guy who has the hardest job to do, because he is playing so many different characters in his one performance. I thought he was absolutely terrific here and stole the show from where I’m sitting. Anthony Edwards too was superb, he really needs to appear in more movies.
At the end of the day, Zodiac is the facts and Se7en is the fantasy. Zodiac is like a documentary. It doesn’t have the gimmicks of Panic Room (thank god!) and it tries to give you the WHOLE FACTS of the events around Zodiac, which is perfectly fine but doesn’t make for too much of an entertaining film. I felt it lost it’s focus mid-way into the film and I became a little restless and bored with the investigation. I can praise Fincher for giving us all the information he could about the Zodiac but I feel it would have been a better and more entertaining film if it had been cut down and some scenes cut into others and with some of the fat removed.
Still this is a superb and mature film from a truly talented director. It deserves all the praise and accolades it receives and I truly hope it sells well on DVD to try and push this thing to a profit. A movie that is made as good as this, certainly deserves to be seen.
Zodiac is a superbly made film which has the atmosphere and the time of the era all there, along with interesting themes and some stunning visuals. However, the pacing is lacking (although I can see why he went with it) and the movie has more fat on it than it really should. Around 45 minutes too long and a movie with so many scenes of nothing, I hate to give such a superbly made film a 3 1/2 star rating but it failed to keep my interest and I think I looked at my watch four times. Still, I recommend it but can’t whole heartedly praise it.