The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Zodiac

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Jacqueline Monahan

Zodiac

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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You will not want to ask this guy’s astrological sign.

Zodiac is based on the actual case files of the serial killer of the same name. From the late 60’s to the early 70’s, Zodiac is busy dispatching victims of his own, although he’s not above taking credit for other unrelated murders, just for attention. With various guns and in one instance, a knife, he indiscriminately kills whoever might be in his way when he gets one of his headaches. Only killing, he tells famed lawyer Melvin Belli, (Brian Cox) will make the pain go away. The television interview, with Belli questioning the phoned-in killer, turns into a futile circus. Zodiac has the last laugh as he’s had all through his run of infamy.

Zodiac insinuates himself onto the pages of local San Francisco Bay newspapers with handwritten letters bearing a homemade code. Once cracked, it reveals taunts about his identity and future thrill kill plans.

Because Zodiac’s attacks take place over several different police jurisdictions, the case is extraordinarily difficult to coordinate. Crucial information is not shared. Law enforcement and the media each have a piece of the puzzle, but the whole picture is elusive. Leads aren’t followed that should be, and false confessions waste precious time.

The film follows the massive, ongoing and slow-moving investigation, focusing on the efforts of two San Francisco detectives and two newspaper men at the San Francisco Chronicle. Detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), along with crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) follow up on dozens of leads to find Zodiac’s identity and capture him. Each is obsessed in his own way, with various personal and professional consequences.

SFPD detectives Toschi and Armstrong are on a dizzying trail and frustrated at every turn of events. Toschi especially comes off as an avenging angel, smart and with the power of the department on his side. The Zodiac murders haunt him as evidenced by his frequent visits to one of the crime scenes.

Robert Downey Jr. as crime reporter Paul Avery, is pitch perfect as the jaded, hard living investigator that unfortunately squandered his credibility with law enforcement and is now kept at arm’s length from the investigation. His relationship with Zodiac becomes frighteningly personal.

Jake Gyllenhaal, playing the quiet, somewhat nerdy Graysmith, methodically collects bits and pieces of information wherever he can. He possesses the low-key demeanor which allows him access to police files. They can tolerate him more than the unstable Avery. There’s no shortage of Gyllenhaal’s patented sincere gazes, here used to convey introspection and single-mindedness.

Graysmith becomes the last man standing in one of the longest manhunts in police history, and he’s not even a cop. He comes closest to revealing Zodiac’s identity through tireless decades-long research. Like the other men, he pays a high price for his involvement.

Director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), does not shy away from the horror of the crime scenes, and presents us with the cold matter-of-fact actions of the killer. He uses the camera as a silent witness to events that are brutal, shocking and at other times, quiet and tedious. One of the murders is particularly disturbing and the camera lingers, causing unexpected audience recoil. Fincher delves into the psyches of his band of obsessives, all of the good guys and one exceedingly bad one.

The film does a credible job of evoking the 60’s and 70’s with music, cars, rotary telephones and manual typewriters, hugely outdated by modern technology standards. Watching detectives and newsmen actually dialing a number gives us a hint of their helplessness when it comes to a Zodiac capture. The pace is painstakingly slow.

I enjoyed the cat and mouse quality endemic to any monster on the loose tale. Zodiac is more unsettling than any invented monster, and reminds us that real ones lurk among us in human form. It is disquieting how easily death can pay us a visit, walking up in his size ten boots, and then hiding in plain sight, terrifyingly ordinary.

There’s little in the way of closure or satisfaction on the long road we take with our four sleuths. The investigation leaves everyone involved exhausted, (including the audience, after a 2 hr 40 minute running time). You will have to be content with the Zodiac’s emerging character study and a glimpse into the inner workings of law enforcement. If you are interested in the human toll a case like this generates, you will feel the angst, appreciate the effort, and enjoy the journey.