Zodiac Show Time with Mitrajit Bhattacharya

Zodiac is a compelling 2007 David Fincher film, that deals with the unsolved Zodiac serial murders in 1960s San Francisco- the work of a serial killer who sent teasing clues and letters to the local newspapers. The movie- a feature film with a documentary feel, is a narrative of how the investigation unfolds led by a rookie cartoonist, a seasoned crime reporter and two hardened cops with different grains of character.

The character of the killer is fascinating, that of a man who would lay low for months or years between his bloody crimes, while his pursuers grew older and increasingly detached from the case. Zodiac is a 30-year long epic saga of muddled leads, lost evidences and conflicted jurisdiction. The movie stands out for its production design of recreating chilling murder scenes and rich background settings of San Francisco Bay in the end 60s and a powerful documentary style writing on real procedural investigation by James Vanderbilt. 

Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal play protagonists on the Zodiac's case: Downey is Paul Avery, the mercurial crime reporter and Gyllenhaal is Robert Graysmith, the paper's geeky and almost ignored cartoonist whose amateur enthusiasm for the case becomes a driving force for the investigation. The investigation moves forward when their work combines with real investigation by officers, inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards).

Zodiac is very different from Fincher's other serial-killer film Seven. Zodiac's victims are random. His story has no clear ending. As his murders tail off, or are attributed to other lunatics, Zodiac himself seems like a once-praised but now misunderstood conman who has mysteriously neglected his vocation. It is impossible not to enjoy the scary and stomach-churning world of the Zodiac based on Graysmith’s two books adapted by Fincher for screen. 

Meanwhile, at the San Francisco Chronicle, the character sketches of the bearded, chain-smoking, alcoholic reporter Avery and editorial cartoonist Graysmith are real. Despite a mammoth two-and-a-half hour run time, Zodiac isn’t boring. Fincher's feel for detail is terrific: the chewed pencils, typewriters and tele-fax machines or how the newspaper office is fairly empty- a remarkably accurate production design depicting newspaper desks at morning papers- as reporters started trooping in late into the night. And yes, reporters drank and smoked like chimneys at their desks 50 years ago.

 

Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo are immensely popular leading men of Hollywood and their persona have an outgrown reach beyond their screen persona. Also, for the same reason, they sometimes- particularly Downey and Ruffalo- run the risk of being typecast, but who cares! These are stars who perfectly project the old-world charm of leading men with rare panache on the large screen. 

What makes Zodiac authentic is the way it avoids grandstanding and false climaxes, and just follows the methodical progress of police work. Fincher gives us times, days and dates in his narrative, only to underline how the case seems to stretch through decades.

Watch on Netflix.

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