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Posted: May 22nd, 2007, by Mandy Williams

Directed by David Fincher, of Fight Club and Se7en fame, Zodiac documents the infamous unsolved crimes of the serial killer who plagued California in the late sixties and early seventies. With these credentials and the heavyweight casting it was obvious this film was going to be an interesting prospect.

Following a spate of brutal murders of couples in the Bay area, the attention-seeking culprit teases police and reporters with cryptic codes about his identity. Four men find the case of the Zodiac taking over their life: Robert Craysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a geeky cartoonist on The San Francisco Chronicle who, although not assigned to the investigation, becomes sidekick to Robert Downey Jr’s beleaguered crime reporter Paul Avery, to whom the killer sends his code. At the same time homicide detectives David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are investigating the apparently unrelated murder of a taxi driver in San Francisco, when it becomes apparent that the murders are connected.

It’s an engaging performance by Gyllenhaal, in the role of the young man becoming steadily more obsessed with his quest for the truth. Ruffalo performs the part of a world-weary cop frustrated by the obstacles that get in his way to perfection. Downey Jr plays to type as the compelling drug-fuelled hack, whose life is threatened then heads on a downward spiral. The years go by, and although they all have their superstitions, the disparate characters get no further in their search for the elusive killer. No-one was ever charged with the murders, but Fincher makes his own conclusions. There is a scene where Craysmith finally manages to look the man he believes to be the killer in the eye.

The cinematography is excellent, whether it be the panoramic shots of San Francisco and the surrounding area or the brief but harrowing scenes of slaughter. It’s also a great period piece, bringing the frustration of the lack of technology scuppering the police investigation to life. It accurately evokes the terror that the community must have felt at the time. At two and three quarter hours, this meticulously-researched crime story could do with a bit of trimming. However, like a jigsaw Fincher painstakingly assembles the pieces of investigative journalism, composing a cryptic puzzle of a film that both grips and entertains.

Mandy Williams


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