David Fincher has a weird habit of either missing the mark (Panic Room, Alien 3), hitting the mark solidly (The Game, Se7en) or hitting it so spot on it’s enough to make your head spin with the greatness (Fight Club). With his sixth film, Fincher tackles a real life detective story, that of 60s/70s serial killer “The Zodiac”, a creepy dude who liked sending letters to newspapers confessing to various killings and threatening more of the same. A bit scarier than your usual disgruntled Daily Mail reader writing in to complain about that week’s inflamed nonsense. Sorry - that was off topic, but hey.
Anyway, Fincher lines himself up with a cast who are not only fantastic actors but also, much to my joy, lovely to look at: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downy Jr and Mark Ruffalo. It’s winning already. Lovely Jake plays a geeky cartoonist for a newspaper, who also has a knack for solving puzzles and getting a bit obsessed with things. Lovely Bobby-Jr plays a ruthless reporter at the same paper, who writes up the Zodiac stories and is also a raging alcoholic. And Lovely Mark plays the detective assigned to the case, along with his partner Anthony Edwards (ER’s Doctor Greene, though he probably hates that he’s forever linked to that character. He gets to have a full head of hair in this, so that should make up for it.)
The film follows the investigations into the Zodiac killer, both from the detective’s point of view and that of lovely Jake, whose character decides to write a book on the case (said book written in real life, by the real life lovely Jake - Robert Graysmith - on which this film is based. Or something.) It makes up your basic serial killer v detective type of film, except this one doesn’t have a flash resolution (being stuck to real-life, where thrilling stand-offs never happen) and delves into a variety of other genres. There’s definitely a thriller/creep-fest element to it, giving the audience a front-row seat on a few of the Zodiac’s brutal slayings, and there are a few Se7en-style dark basement get-the-hell-out-of-there moments that’ll have you wriggling in your seat. There’s also a nice tale of obsession (Mr Graysmith just not letting go at expense of his family) and some chuckles to add to the flavour.
On top of all of this, Fincher has been sure to make his stylish mark. It’s like he’s peed all over the film - wherever you look you’ll get a whiff of Fincher. His camera goes off on fun journeys, be it peering out a car window, perched atop the Golden Gate bridge, or somehow following a moving vehicle in exactly the same birds-eye-view style as Grand Theft Auto. Thankfully he keeps his fun to the filler scenes, letting his formidable cast carry themselves. It all adds up to be one slick, solid piece of film.
At 158 minutes this is a stocky beast, but the time flies by in a mixture of suspense and intrigue. With a great cast, a fascinating story (all the more because it’s true) and some clever direction, Zodiac makes a killing with a CF3.