There are certain films you see once, and they quickly dissolve from your mind. Not because they are bad by any means, its usually, at least for me, that they are so massive, engrossing, or emotionally investing that my body's automatic response is to forget about them. The best example I can think of at this time is "Inception." While visually stunning, the film as a whole is still very hard to wrap my head around and I've avoided watching it ever since seeing it in the theater. Again, it's not because I don't like it, and hell, who knows, maybe if I saw the film again, I wouldn't like it, especially since it doesn't have an end credit sequence......anyway. This brings me to "Zodiac" probably one of the most slept films in David Fincher's filmography. It's taut, gritty, and paced to perfection with the addition of great acting performances and a truly engrossing story that you nearly forget it based on an actual unsolved case.
"Zodiac" tells the true story of the Zodiac murders that took place across Northern, and possibly South California between 1966 and 1972. Shortly after a unsolved murder in 1969 in Vallejo, CA, a letter is sent to the San Francisco Chronicle which details the crime and claims that another murder was also committed nearly a year prior by someone calling themselves "Zodiac." Spanning the course of nearly 25 years, "Zodiac" recounts the effort of journalist Paul Avery, cartoonist Robert Graysmith, and SFPD Inspector, Dave Toschi, as their lives intersect closely with possible suspects, and the obsession to catch Zodiac that nearly destroys their lives.
Throughout high school and college, I had an obsession with true crime and serial killers. I wanted to know the stories behind the crimes and what really made people tick. Some of the most infamous murderers of all time seem like something out of a movie, which makes the most sense why some of the most unnerving horror and suspense films have been based on serial killers like Ed Gein, Albert Fish, and Dennis Lynn Rader, the BTK Killer. However, if you look at the glut of direct-to-DVD and made-for-TV films about serial killers most of them are, for lack of a better term, lackluster, to say the least. At first glance, you might almost think that "Zodiac" might have the same fate, but there is pedigree to spare.
It's easy to forget that this is even a David Fincher film. Taking into account how diversified his filmography is, "Zodiac" seems like the start of a new Fincher direction. Moving away from dark, gritty horror/suspense films such as "Se7ev" and "The Game," "Zodiac" was at the time his most mature effort to date, not mention his longest film up to that point, clocking in at 157 minutes ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" would top it the following year with a run-time of 166 minutes). While some might see the long run-time as a negative, I thought it gave Fincher enough time to introduce characters, detail the crimes, and get the point across that obsession; either good or bad, corrupts and destroys nearly everything.
While "Zodiac" could be considered the beginning of a new Fincher era, this film was also a breeding ground for what we could expect from Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo. And of course the renaissance of Robert Downey, Jr., who only a year later would become Tony Stark. While the film is called "Zodiac" the infamous murderer is pretty much a plot point or a foil to the actors. We are witness to his murder spree, but it's the emotion and the portrayals by Downey, Jr., Gyllenhaal, and Ruffalo that drive the film from beginning to end. Fincher is also able to create a giant puzzle where it's the job of the audience of what to believe and reach their own conclusion. Unlike other killers throughout history, the Zodiac Killer was never caught, which creates a true mystery film where there is no right or wrong answer as to who is the true culprit in the crimes.
While "Zodiac" didn't really get it's due in the theater, if you are a fan of true crime, or simply great direction by a master who is dedicated to all of the little details that make a film special, than this film is for you. It features an engrossing story, fine performances, and it delivers where other films about serial killers fall short.
Fun Fact: Over the past 100 years, there have been nearly 20 reported serial killers in the state of California.