Music video producer-cum-film director David Fincher is back after an eight-year hiatus with Zodiac, a murder mystery picture based on the real events of the Zodiac killer. Eight years is a long interval between films, but Mr. Fincher’s last effort, the iconoclastic Fight Club, has been absorbed into mainstream culture like a bizarro comfort blanket. Thus Mr. Fincher’s absence has been relatively unnoticed due to the staying power of Tyler Durden’s lessons in the psyche of the modern male.
With Zodiac, Mr. Fincher takes the edge off his stylistic lustre a touch in order to execute an insidiously satisfying and sprawling narrative that is equal parts period film and police procedural. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo lead a deep cast of character actors whose faint familiarity add a sense of unsettling comfort in this unusual nocturne of a film.
The violent din caused by the Zodiac murders thus register like a true terror, perhaps meant as a tongue-in-cheek commentary regarding all of the hoopla surrounding today’s notion of ‘terror’ in the Homeland.
The first four acts of this lengthy five-act film (158 minutes) cover the heyday of the Zodiac killer’s spree, which straddled the late 60s and the early 70s. During this period, the Zodiac rose to pop mythic proportions; he haunted Northern Californians by killing without motive and then flaunting his abilities publicly by sending a series of cryptic letters to the San Francisco Chronicle. Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, the Chronicle cartoonist, who acts as our narrator of sorts, as for much of the investigation he is watching the events from the corner of the room. Downey Jr. plays Paul Avery, a fabulously hedonistic hotshot crime reporter that befriends Graysmith as he follows the Zodiac down the rabbit hole.
Ultimately, the Zodiac killer gets the better of all who are ensnared in his mystery. The case is famously unsolved and Mr. Fincher deftly incorporates this mystery into Zodiac as a major overriding theme. As the narrative moves away from the core period of the murders, we are left watching a group of struggling individuals who have become completely entrenched in the need to know the truth about the Zodiac.
The facts, however, never seem to lead to an irrefutable truth and Graysmith remains the last man standing after the Zodiac’s enduring mystery has swallowed up the souls of all others in its path. Perhaps this has allowed the Zodiac killer to fade into nothingness, as if he had never existed.
Graysmith would go on to write the bestseller on which this film is based. In Zodiac Mr. Fincher has produced a mature and understated film. Perhaps not as showy as Se7en or Fight Club, but glitz always has a tendency to grow tired, whereas ideas such as the nature of truth endure as haunting riddles for all time.