Vintage Viewings: Zodiac (2007)

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Will Campbell, Writer/Editor

David Fincher, in my opinion, is one of the most consistent directors out there. Every movie, even his worst ones, are good and enjoyable all the way through. But I do not think any movie of his has ever compared to his 2007 film Zodiac.

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Zodiac tells the story of the killer who goes by the alias of The Zodiac Killer, an unknown individual who was terrorizing the northern California area in the 60s and 70s. Cartoonist Robert Graysmith dedicates himself to tracking down and identifying the killer, acting as an amateur investigator. However, his life begins to spiral out of control as his obsession grows.

This film was shot on an estimated budget of about $65,000,000 and profited by earning back roughly $84,000,000. The movie was generally positively received, sitting at a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 78% on Metacritic. Many critics rate it as the #1 film of 2007, though it occasionally drops to #2 or #3, being superseded by There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men.

Zodiac, being directed by Fincher, is very particular in its detail and camera movements, and is also very immersive to the viewer. Fincher is not afraid to use CGI, computer-generated imagery, to enhance the experience of the movie. Early in the movie, he uses CGI to create a San Francisco skyline that more closely replicates a 70s San Francisco, rather than a 2000s one. It makes the movie much easier to be immersed in and makes the setting itself believable.

His other films do this too. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features many shots enhanced by CGI, including a big action scene towards the end, and also much of the blood used in the movie. His movie The Social Network about the creation of Facebook contains more digitally-enhanced shots than the 2014 Godzilla film. You do not notice it when watching, it just looks that good. I think the blood being CG is the most impressive out of all of the subtle effects in his films. Fincher does this so he can redo takes over and over since he is a perfectionist, which I think lends a lot to his movies and means he gets the best performances possible. Zodiac is definitely a sign of what this style can produce.

I think Zodiac is upheld as being so great because of the tension it builds. It is a very slow movie, and it takes a fair amount of patience to watch, but I absolutely think that it deserves its long runtime. The hunt for the Zodiac Killer was a complicated event, and watching Robert Graysmith’s deep investigation for the identity of the killer was intriguing, and kept fresh with the inserting of other characters.

Jake Gyllenhaal does a really good job as Robert Graysmith. It is not a complicated role like his part in Nightcrawler, but it does not need to be. Nightcrawler is entirely centric around Gyllenhaal’s character, while Zodiac’s main character is really the Zodiac Killer himself. Other good performances come from Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi, and Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery.

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Paul Avery’s story is especially interesting in the story. While Gyllenhaal’s Graysmith becomes obsessed, Paul Avery is the one who truly goes off the deep end by the later moments of the film, and it is a very interesting spiral to watch.

The real strength of this movie, though, is the Zodiac Killer. Much like real life, we do not know his identity, but the tension he provides throughout the film, even when he is not visible on-screen, is palpable and constantly keeps you wondering when the next murder will be.

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Fincher, with Zodiac, continues his trend of interesting mystery films, though rather than an outlandish killer who picks his targets based on the Seven Deadly Sins, or a child kidnapper, we get a very real-life killer, and for me, that means the terror of this film is enhanced twofold.

While Zodiac might not be your typical popcorn film or romantic drama, it provides just as much entertainment with its foreboding atmosphere and a constant questioning of what exactly is going to happen next.

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