See Jake. See Jake walk. See Jake file. See Jake looking very preoccupied. See Jake walk some more. I believe that on Zodiac, the actors were paid by the footstep. Did they turn in their pedometers at the pay window? Was Dr. Scholl's an investor?
Affable actor Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, the real-life amateur investigator who doggedly tried to solve the case of The Zodiac Killer through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. He later wrote two best-selling true crime books on his obsessive chase, and finally came up with a most-likely suspect. I read both hybrid memoirs, and while I found them compelling in places, I ultimately did not like them for various reasons. Since director David Fincher's overly long, repetitive movie is quite faithful to the books, I had the same mixed feelings.
Fortunately, the large cast — from the stars to the bit players — are excellent. Gyllenhaal is joined by Mark Ruffalo as SFPD detective Dave Toshi who was hot on the case for years on end, until the pursuit of the wily killer finally broke his spirit. Brian Cox is unsurpassed as Melvin Belli. Charles Fleischer is appropriately creepy as one of the skulking suspects.
The cinematography, by Harris Savides (who did such a marvelous job on Birth, in 2004, and also shot The Game for Fincher in the 90s), is beyond reproach. The soundtrack is perfect. The costumes, sets, and look and feel are flawless.
…With a surprising lack of flair, Fincher chose to tread the same old ground as every other filmmaker that's gone before him.
There aren't many movies based on the Zodiac Killer overall — and this is certainly the best of them — but it is completely lacking in innovation. It's just another police procedural, only much, much longer. Honestly, there are way too many scenes showing people walking back and forth, pacing, filing paperwork, leaning on news desks, talking on the phone, sitting and thinking, and so on. When I see Graysmith move towards a shut door, I can imagine that he going to be someplace else in a moment; I do not need to see the entire process from knob-turning to entry to destination. (The film editors of yore invented "cut to train wheels" for a reason!)
I am a huge Fincher fan, and have been right from the beginning (when he was only doing rock videos). Fight Club and Se7en are two of my all-time favorites. Panic Room and The Game are in my DVD collection. I even liked Alien 3. I was not expecting another Se7en from the man, but I was expecting something with some originality.
I guess it couldn't be that way, as the movie is faithfully based upon Graysmith's nonfiction, but I was hoping to see something along the lines of Spike Lee's treatment of the Son of Sam killings. Summer of Sam was far from a perfect film, but at least it was from a fresh perspective. It would have been interesting to see Fincher focus on the crimes solely from the killer's POV, or perhaps do an anthology film, each segment from the perspective of a Zodiac victim. Oh, well. I don't make the movies, I just review them. And for me, Zodiac was in interminable bore.
Zodiac is in theaters nationwide tomorrow. Running time is 2:40 minutes… walking time is 2:10.
= = =
Review by Staci Layne Wilson
Read Horror.com's interview with author Robert Graysmith here