A Long Movie About a Long Case
Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.
by Breanne Boland March 8, 2007 Issue
Based on a true-crime
book, Zodiac tries to rise above its paperback pedigree by turning
a murder mystery into a character-driven drama. It half succeeds
— while it avoids being a thriller, its naturalistic inclinations
instead rob this two-and-a-half hour film of the excitement a
story like this should bring. The film follows police officers
and newspaper reporters through the ‘60s, ‘70s and
‘80s, changing dates every two to three minutes in a race
to inform the audience that… the killer was never found.
If the unsolved status
of the Zodiac killer’s murders were truly an impediment
to good drama, the case wouldn’t have inspired dozens of
films and television shows. However, the risk of sticking to the
facts is that the film has no real end. There were and are suspects.
None of them could be charged with the murders because the evidence
was all circumstantial; the conclusion of this film suffers the
same fate. It’s a pity, because David Fincher, who directed
Seven, Panic Room, and Fight Club, is a fine director who knows
his way around suspense and violence and leads a fine cast. Unfortunately,
the considerable skill behind and within this film can’t
release it from the existing confines of the story.
Zodiac follows the
exploits and letters of the Zodiac killer from the points of view
of the San Francisco police department, represented here by Mark
Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, and members of the San Francisco
Chronicle staff, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.
Each of them gives a fine performance — Ruffalo’s
thwarted lust for justice represents the frustration of everyone
responsible for keeping the public safe. Gyllenhaal is the earnest
public, and Downey Jr. is the mercenary drug-taking, booze-swilling
reporter who hopes to make a name for himself — and does
— though not without consequences. He’s particularly
charismatic, delivering the kind of performance that inspires
the hope he stays away from his vices long enough to have the
career he deserves.
158 minutes of great acting, the film ends with a whimper. And
a lot of numb butts in the audience. The years peel away, the
parties involved retire or give up, and we’re left with
an epilogue that amounts to a shrug.
Fincher tries diligently
to keep people with him — his visual style is great for
indicating frustration and subtle unease. But when 15 years have
passed without a murder, the unease dissipates, leaving only impatience.
The respect for the truth that sustains the film’s first
half — the Zodiac’s letters, startling reproductions
of the murders themselves — drowns the second half. Not
even the enthusiasm and mania of Gyllenhaal’s character,
based on the author of the books that inspired this film, can
keep up the tempo.
Some complain that
films are drowned by conventions, that good stories are stifled
by changes made in the name of attracting audiences. One of those
conventions is a satisfying or happy ending, which can spoil films
better served by ambiguity. However, Zodiac, mired in the facts
as it is, is not one of those films, and so instead its long,
gradual winding down leaves a lingering dissatisfaction, rather
than admiration for the realism the film obviously was striving
Bottom line: the murderer
still has the last laugh.
300 - From the director of the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Based
on a graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City). Leonidas, king
of Sparta, leads a group of 300 soldiers into a battle with the
entire Persian army, which seeks to conquer Greece.
The Ultimate Gift -
A weepy, life-affirming tale about a young man who reevaluates
life after completing tasks left to him by his dead grandfather,
played by James Garner. It also features Abigail Breslin of Little
Miss Sunshine as a little girl with cancer.
I Think I Love My Wife - Chris Rock directs and stars in this
film about a man married to a career woman who is tempted by a
free-spirited younger woman. With Gina Torres, the woman beloved
by Firefly and Serenity fans.
Premonition - Sandra
Bullock is a woman whose husband dies one day and returns the
next, leaving her racing to rearrange events so that his fatal
car accident doesn’t occur. Her knowledge of what’s
to come raises the suspicion of those around her.
Dead Silence - The
guys who created the Saw movies created this film about a bunch
of (wait for it) ventriloquist’s dummies come to life. For
revenge. The trailer for this is one of the funniest things I’ve
seen in a theater in a while.
from Breanne Boland