DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Zodiac, (The ...), (... Killer)


Title:  Zodiac

Release Date:  2007

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 160 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Paramount, Warner Brothers 

Director; Writer: David Fincher, based on books by Robert Graysmith, screenplay (adapted) by James Vanderbilt

Producer:  multiple

Cast:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Cox, Robert Downey Jr., Lee Norris, John Carroll Lynch 

Technical: Cinemascope 2.3 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  teaching, writing, self-expression, diaries, journals , truth-seeking, psychological polarities


On the surface, this sounds like another long, brooding crime drama, but it is less of a film noir (than, say, Se7en  (Seven), from this director) and more of a long character study of a mild-mannered man Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall) driven to find and publish the truth, for the sheer satisfaction of doing so, regardless of cost or compensation.


The opening scene shows a lovers lane couple in Vallejo, CA getting hit by the killer. The young man is played by "nice guy" young actor Lee Norris (from "One Tree Hill") whom you never want to see get it. He is kneecapped and shot multiple times but lives and will reappear in the last scene in the film 22 years later, aged appropriately, but having led a scruffy life because of his grevious wounds.


The film goes into gear, around 1969, as the various police departments and the journalists of the San Francisco Chronicle try to solve the problem. One journalist, Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) winds down because of his drinking problems after getting threats. Graysmith, a cartoonist for the paper, is drawn into solving the anagrams left by the killer, and gradually becomes obsessed with the idea that he can solve it despite the bungling bureaucracies of the police departments and newspapers. He is already divorced with two kids, and movie suggests that he is just not assertive enough to be a real husband. He is a real Rosenfels psychological subjective feminine. Graysmith will work for years on this "because no one else will."


Over the years, we watch San Francisco become the "Baghdad by the Bay" was we know it today, with the construction of the Transamerica Tower Pyramid shown in time-lapse. Graysmith, his physiology protected by his integrity, will never age; fourteen years later he will still look like a fit 25-year-old man. (There is an early odd scene at home where Graysmith is in underwear but with long garter-like socks; yet in the Chronicle office, it doesn't look like anyone practices "dress for success" according to Molloy's old paradigm in fashion at the time.) Neither does the detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). The two lead characters don't meet until half way through the movie, with a coffee shop scene (Graysmith buys) that reminds one of a similar scene with Pacino in Heat. But he has remarried (the movie doesn't show much of the details) and in time his wife worries that his pursuits, exposing himself to threats from the killer, threaten his family.


The Zodiac killer's sociopathy and psychopathology come through his mailed letters (in this pre-Internet time) in anagram format. He makes horrific threats that need not to be repeated in detail here (they echo similar lines about "kids" or "kiddies" in Gust Van Sant 's Elephant), and he seems to have a pseudo-religious agenda, like a terrorist. He claims that the people whom he murders will be his slaves in the afterlife. (That almost sounds like Al Qaeda.) In this way, Fincher makes the character a bit of a "gospel parallel" for the religious fanatic in Se7en determined to execute all of the Seven Deadly Sins (or corresponding sinners). Avery at least twice repeats the assertion that the Zodiac is a "latent homosexual." That label sounds innocent today, but in earlier generations it had become a surrogate term for someone who should not be on the loose. The term had been defined in Evelyn Ruth Duvall 's book Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers (1956) and misuse of that term before the Dean of Men had gotten me thrown out of the College of William and Mary as a freshman in November 1961 (details here). So the verbal foreplay with that little epigram was particularly chilling for me.


Graysmith tracks down two main suspects. One was a movie projectionist with a particular interest in the 1932 classic, The Most Dangerous Game, based on the famous short story by Richard Connell. That story, often taught in high school English classes, is famous with its layered paradigms for morality: the evil Count Zaroff finds that the most dangerous prey is man, but that is because of the basic dichotomy in man's nature, of "brains vs. brawn", of culture vs. biological lineage for its own sake. The film stock supposedly contains the Zodiac symbol on the leader (or perhaps embedded in the famous scene with the turning lock). That clue may dead end, but the paradigm of the story becomes a metaphor for Graysmith's own personality. He is more interested in his own intellectual accomplishment than in people or family for their own sake, even though he has already become a father, attentive and protective when he has to be (because after all his kids could become victims, too). Graysmith does all of his work in the hardcopy world of print, visiting libraries and police departments, getting the cops to double-talk and cough up the clues.


The most likely "usual suspect" however turns out to be an ex teacher Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) who had been fired for inappropriately touching students. Today, that character would be prosecuted and incarcerated and later registered as a sex offender. The suspect dies of a heart attack in the 1990s. 


An earlier film, "The Zodiac", 2005, is distributed in DVD by ThinkFilm; It is directed by Alexander Bulkley. It had a USA working title of "In Control of All Things." It is being shown in mid March, 2007 on TMC. The film covers some of the same ground as the Fincher film and plays out like a docudrama.  A clip from "The Most Dangerous Game" appears (and later, after a decipher, a radio announcer says "man is the most dangerous animal to kill"). Justin Chambers is the inspector and Rory Calhoun his son, and his family does get put in jeopardy, generating some short-term family confrontations that seem a bit stereotyped. Some of the crime scenes from the Fincher movie appear, and the "kneecapping" attack also is documented. Without a "hero" like Gyllenhaal's character in the larger film, this film rather stagnates into being like a TV film. (It is shot in standard aspect.) It would be OK as a Dateline episode, and that's how it comes across.


There is also "Zodiac Killer," 2004, from Lions Gate, dir. Ulli Lommel, 83 min, that appears to be a fictional takeoff with a copycat theme.  This is a fictitious story about a copycat Vladimir Maskic (Michael Cosnick)( who is inspired by a book by Simon Vale (Lommel himself), and carries out a moral power trip against people who neglect eldercare responsibilities. Valdimir works at a nursing home and has been upset to overhear disrespectful conversations about the elderly from adult children.  The movie (low budget and looking like a B-movie often), often in sepia, presents flashbacks of some of the original Zodiac crimes. Eventually there is a climatic confrontation between Vladimir and Lommel. All rather unpleasant and negative, and the movie has the flaw of not giving you any characters to like.   




Related reviews:. Brokeback Mountain    Se7en   Heat   Jarhead   The Most Dangerous Game Elephant    Rendition


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