Saturday, May 05, 2007

Way Overdue Movie Review: Zodiac


DVD Release Date: 06/26/2007

In Brief: What's Good

  • Excellent casting including: Jake Gyllenhall, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, and Chloe Sevigny

  • Smart, edgy, humorous performance by Robert Downey Jr.

  • Occasionally, really good camerawork and directing choices.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • Not very interesting

  • Running time is too long (almost unavoidably, but still a bad thing)

  • Anti-climactic ending

Note: Based on a true story (though how much and how accurately, I'm not sure).

C+ Story
B Acting
B- Directing
B Visuals

Jake Gyllenhall plays Robert Graysmith, a San Francisco newspaper cartoonist who, thanks to an obsession with puzzles, codes, and mysteries, gets involved in the investigation of the Zodiac killer that plagued San Francisco during the late '60's and '70's. Robert Downey Jr. plays a fellow journalist who takes a similar interest and also gets involved. Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards play cops investigating the case.

The casting is oddly impressive. I say "oddly" because the casting didn't need to be as good as it was. Dermot Mulroney, Adam Goldberg, Clea DuVall, and Ione Skye show up in small supporting roles so insignificant that they could have gotten anyone to play them (I don't even remember Clea DuVall being in the movie or what Adam Goldberg's role was).

As for the story... The Zodiac mystery spans at least a couple decades. Therefore, the movie is unavoidably lengthy so as to portray the passage of time and to include all the significant milestones in the investigation. However, the movie ends up not being that interesting.

This is not to belittle what happened to the real-life victims. It was horrible what the Zodiac did. But, there were only a handful of murders confirmed to be committed by Zodiac. The Zodiac killer goes underground for several years. After another brief stint of killing, Zodiac goes unheard from for years again. As the plot for a movie, it's just not that enthralling. Some interest is maintained by the Zodiac's method of taunting the police and giving clues to newspapers.

To fill the gaps and lend some substance, the movie focuses on the life and private investigation of Gyllenhall's character. His obsession with the case disrupts his work and personal life. The movie spends just enough time developing his personal life that we know what his life entails and recognize the passage of time but not enough time for us to be emotionally invested in Graysmith's success.

On top of everything else, the resolution to the story feels very low key and anti-climactic.

Zodiac is held together by the strength of the performances, especially from Robert Downey Jr., and from the occasionally interesting images, special effects, and camerawork. Oddly, that still makes it a decent movie. Perhaps if the movie had been made more "Hollywoodish" it would have been more exciting, intriguing, or satisfying. On the other hand, that would have cheapened it.

The way the movie is made, I can almost imagine it being cut into small scenes and those scenes being used as visual aids during a four-hour documentary on the History Channel. If you rent or buy Zodiac on DVD expecting a nail-biting thriller, you may be disappointed. But, if you don't mind a lengthy yet well-acted docudrama that's more informational than entertaining, and if you appreciate a movie that's well made, regardless of what the content is, then you may just like Zodiac.

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

Robert Graysmith, the real-life person Jake Gyllenhall's character is based upon, later wrote two non-fiction books about the Zodiac killer (Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked). The movie was shot on a digital camera rather than on film, and the editing software was Apple's Final Cut Pro.

Fun Facts from Internet Movie Database

The cipher mailed to the Chronicle in the movie was actually mailed to the Examiner. The actual location of one of the murders could not be used by the production, so a set was constructed and the city background was digitally filled in.

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