Plot: A serial killer is haunting the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. He gives clues to the press and police who attempt to track him down. Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a quiet cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, becomes increasingly obsessed with trying to track down the killer known as the “Zodiac.”
Who’s it for: You have to like thrillers because “Zodiac” has great moments of tension, there is also some troubling violence in the beginning third of the film, but nothing compared to “300” or “The Departed.” The film will also give you a history lesson in how far technology has helped investigations.
Expectations: The director, David Fincher, gets the most out of his men. Look at his past films such as “Fight Club,” “Se7en,” and “The Game.” I knew absolutely nothing about the Zodiac killer and I avoided all previews. I was going in fresh because I was hoping “Zodiac” could be something special.
Actors: Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith: He acts like a boy scout, and with good reason; Robert was an Eagle Scout. Gyllenhaal captures an innocence with this role that makes everything else more powerful, whether it’s the slick talking Tom Avery or the tension of being in the house of a potential killer. Watching Gyllenhaal is perfect for everyone who has ever wanted to play detective. Grade: 9
Robert Downey Jr. as Tom Avery: Tom is the San Francisco crime reporter who makes the case too personal. He begins self-destructing into drugs and alcohol when the Zodiac killer threatens him. I trust Downey to show me self-destructing more than any other actor. He’s lived it. Anytime Robert and Tom are together, Downey steals the show. I know this is insanely early, but I hope the Academy Awards remember this performance a year from now. Grade: 9
Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi: The man can play a cop, he’s done it before with “Collateral” and “In the Cut,” but here he takes it to a new level, I mean, he even pulls off the bow-tie. And the added quirk of David always being hungry is the type of touches Fincher adds to make characters memorable. Grade: 9
Rest of the Cast: Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, Brian Cox, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall and Donal Logue are all worth mentioning. Not every name may be familiar, but you will recognize the faces. And Edwards proves he can act in a wig. Grade: 9
Talking: With thrillers, you expect tension. But the dialogue in this movie snaps as well with a surprising number of laughs. And as soon as you get enough of one partner (Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr.) it switches to the next (Ruffalo and Edwards). Grade: 8
Sights and sounds: This is the closest I will come to growing up in San Francisco in the ’70s. Everything is authentic (fashion, music, cars) and there are some classic Fincher directing moments such as following a car from directly above as it goes down the street. The song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan begins and ends the film and lingers as my new ‘that sounds insanely creepy’ song. Grade: 9
Best Scene: There are many to choose from here, especially a funny moment with a drink called “Aqua Velva.” But, since this is a thriller, I’ll go with that category. The opening scene felt like “Jaws.”. Doom was coming, you knew it, and you were stuck watching it unfold.
Ending: I can only blame “Zodiac” a little bit for the ending. After all, it’s based on facts so it had to end a certain way, and if you read the book Zodiac you know who wrote it.
Rewatchability: The answer is yes. Even though the film is over two and a half hours long, I’m looking forward to seeing it again. And I assume the DVD will be overloaded with real information.
Overall: “Zodiac” is based on a true story, but David Fincher knows every movie starts with that, so instead the screen reads “Based on actual case files.” It’s the little things and Fincher does them all well, just like Tom Avery (Downey Jr.) being shown in the background twice before we actually meet him. It is a tight, long thriller that seems to calm down every 20 minutes and then BAM! gets your nerves going again. Outstanding acting from the entire cast, especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. “Zodiac” does a great job of showing three different paths (reporter, cop, cartoonist) in trying to capture a serial killer and keeping you nervous most of the time.
Overall Grade: 9