This upcoming week will see the end of the Discovery series Manhunt: Unabomber and so I thought this was a good enough reason to watch and review the classic David Fincher movie, Zodiac, that starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.
I have always had a soft spot for the mystery of some serial killers. I enjoy shows and films dealing with the mysterious, such as Jack the Ripper and, in this case, the Zodiac Killer.
This is perhaps the best movie dealing with a true life serial killer ever made.
The Zodiac killer terrorized the West Coast for several years starting in the late 1960s by murdering several people and then bragging about it in taunting letters to the police and the newspapers. Despite years of investigation, Zodiac has never been arrested or revealed. However, this movie features several aspects of the investigation and it looks at how that investigation impacted the individuals’ lives who were doing the investigating.
Start with Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), who wrote a specific book and named the individual whom he believed was the Zodiac. Graysmith was a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle when the Zodiac letters started to appear and he found himself obsessed with trying to solve the puzzle of the identity of the killer. At first, it was just an attempt to solve the case, and later it was for his book. Graysmith is shown becoming as obsessed with Zodiac as a man can be, having it cost him his job and his second marriage.
Next up is Paul Avery (Downey Jr), a hard drinking reporter for the Chronicle who is in search of the story of the Zodiac and is just as obsessed as Graysmith. Avery uses drugs and alcohol to cope with the obsession, and when Zodiac sends him a letter threatening his life, Paul starts to go downhill quickly, spiraling into the depths.
Police Inspector David Toschi (Ruffalo) worked the case of the Zodiac since the murder of the cab driver Paul Stine in San Francisco. Toschi was the face behind the investigation for years, but he was hardly the only cop involved. The problem was, at the time, the Zodiac’s murders happened in multiple districts leading to multiple agencies in charge. The sharing of information between different agencies was not done smoothly and it shows how much that hampered the case Toschi was trying to build.
These three actors are tremendous in this film, showing the devastation of the investigation of the Zodiac on their lives. the frustration of trying to work within a system that seemed to be working against them and how some individuals caused suspects to be dropped over the slightest things.
The film does have an implied Zodiac. Arthur Leigh Allen, nicknamed “Lee”, is the film’s choice as the Zodiac. The film does highlight both sides to the case, though it does make Lee (John Carroll Lynch) look very much like the killer. Allen is the suspect that Graysmith named as the Zodiac Killer in his book. In the film, Lynch is amazing as the unbalanced Allan, creating an amazing tone of suspense and eeriness. You believe that this guy could easily be the Zodiac killer just after a few scenes with him.
Other suspects are investigated though. One specific suspect, Rick Marshall, leads Gyllenhaal to the home of movie theater owner Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer) and one of my absolutely most favorite scenes of all time. I am not sure the reason it was included since it had nothing to do with the Lee investigation, but it is the creepiest, most frightening few minutes of the film. Fleischer is as scary as any monster movie creature, and he is nothing but a stoic man. When he turns off the light in the basement, I feel the same desire to run away as was consuming Graysmith at that moment. It does not go anywhere, but the scene is just unbelievably epic and atmospheric.
The atmosphere of this movie is unlike any you have seen before. You feel your skin crawl as these moments unfurl before your face. The different Zodiac attacks, the interview of Lee at his work, the searching of his trailer, the basement scene, the isolation felt by Robert as he is slipping into his obsession… all of these scenes create such a feel for the movie. The film is also shot so beautifully as every image in the film helps to create that same feeling of uncertainty and nervousness.
You, as an audience member, can’t help but feel the same way. There is a distinct feeling of awkwardness or uneasiness as these characters go about their jobs.
The use of the song Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan is another example of how the mood of this movie is transferred to the audience. The song is very creepy and fits perfectly in the movie.
Zodiac is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is a wonderful film that involves the audience in the mood like few movies can. There are great performances throughout the film, including some great work that I haven’t mentioned yet such as Anthony Edwards, Bryan Cox, Chloë Sevigny, Dermont Mulroney, Elias Koteas, Phillip Baker Hall, and John Terry.
David Fincher’s masterpiece is certainly a…