ZODIAC - THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (2 DISC...
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
Robert Downey Jr.
What's it about
On and off for over a decade during the late 1960's and early 70's, an enigmatic killer who liked to taunt the press and police held the San Fransisco Bay area in a furor of paranoia and terror. Calling himself the Zodiac killer in his handwritten notes to the press, which were accompanied by symbol ciphers from the medieval Zodiac alphabet, he was hunted by some of the greatest police talents the city had to offer, and by a relentless newspaper cartoonist who, at the expense of his family and professional life, would write one of the seminal books on the subject of serial killer casework.
Is it good movie?
A lot has been said about this movie, which may be the most brilliant piece of dramatic and emotional cinema ever made by director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en). While it's scope is large, encompassing almost two decades of American history, it's story is intensly personal and directly dependent on the performances of a handfull of great character actors to convey the emotion and long drawn out horseshit that came with such a long, and ultimately fruitless, criminal investigation. Based on the bestselling book by former San Fransisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (played by Jake Gyllenhall in the movie), Zodiac is a master class in tension filled film making, gorgeous cinematigraphy and a driving, ingenious narrative that together make up one of the bes movies of 2007, hands down.
Both Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo (as Detective Toschi) put in award worthy performances as the two men alternately and together hunting the Zodiac killer, and they are accompanied by a terrific cast which includes a hilariously sad performance by Robert Downey Jr. as SF Chronicle crime writer Paul Avery, the always excellent and under appreciated Anthony Edwards and venerable character actor Brian Cox (the first to play Hannibal Lecter on screen in Manhunter, and a treat to see again in a serial killer movie!). The cinematography by Harris Savides acurately recreates the look and feel of San Fransisco and the Bay area during this time period, and helps to give depth to Fincher's shots. At the same time that the story is drawing the audience in, the locations and the prevailing atmosphere of each scene make it almost a living, breathing experience. While building the slow burning tension of this long drawn out story, the filmmakers have managed to take what is almost a by the numbers account of a police investigation and turn it into a nail biting, very personal story of tragedy, compromise, dedication and ultimately of obsession.
What struck me most about the Zodiac case was that it was being handled by several different police forces in different counties, so for a long time all of the evidence, reports and interviews had never been gathered in one place or investigated together. Graysmith, with the help of Toschi, brought all of the varried sources of evidence together, narrowing their hunt down to one man. Before Bob Ressler and Elliott Leyton developed the FBI's system of profiling serial killers, there was no systematic way to approach an investigation like this, especially on a large scale. That is where the fascination with this case lies, not in the symbols or the letters or even in the brutal killings themselves, but in the actual hunt for Zodiac. These guys were doing things that had never been attempted before, and while they got a few feet ahead most of the time, the eventually ended up losing the race. This angle, for me anyway, is where the best parts of this story lie.
This movie, celebrated by critics and soon to be heaped with awards, is something much more simple at heart. It's a damn fine piece of film making, and a great story as well. It shows us a piece of serial killer history that is as fascinating as it is disturbing, and it also shows us some of the early stumbling steps taken in police procedure in cases like this. It is a valuable film if only for the historical commentary it provides, but also for the portrayal of a real life story, when so many others of its kind are fictions, which only makes it even more disturbing and deep on a personal level. Nicely done all around.
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen - 2.35:1.
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround) and subtitles in English, French and Spanish).
The film itself is accompanied by two Audio Commentaries. The first is by Fincher, and it offers a first hand look into his process as a director, and the scope and minutae of his vision. It's a great listen. The second is by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., producer Brad Fischer, writer James Vanderbilt and James Ellroy. While a little confusing at times (this many people on a commentary track bugs me), it's an okay listen if you're interested in the on-set stories and character insight stuff.
The second disc is divided into two sections: The Film and The Facts. Features for the film itself include the hour long documentary Zodiac Deciphered, which is a fascinating look behind the massive period production while also exploring the cultural impact of the story of the Zodiac killer, with interviews with the cast and crew. There's also a 15 minute look at The Visual Effects of Zodiac, especially in relation to Fincher's other films, Previsualization of the three murder scenes from the film, and the Trailer. The Facts contains the meat of this second disc, with the in depth documentary This Is The Zodiac Speaking, which at almost 2 hours, gives an exhausting and very informative look at every aspect of the actual case, including new interviews with the people involved. Rounding out this last section of the set is the 45 minute look at the Prime Suspect in the case, Arthur Leigh Allen, which includes interviews with family, friends, and the police that investigated him. These are required watching for anyone interested in the case, or in serial killers in general (especially the uncaught kind!). This is fascinating stuff, folks, so be sure to watch it!
Zodiac will probably be remembered for one of the great achievements of Fincher's already stellar career, and it is deserving of that. But what it ultimately eds up being is a tense and incredibly well drawn character drama, perserving not only a place and time but a mood and a culture, that have been visited many times before, but never to such effect and with this much skill. Paramount, not known for great DVD releases, really pulled a sweet uppercut with this special edition, with almost 5 hours of documentary footage from both the film and the real life case. Anyone who is fascinated by this story, or the subject of serial killers in general, is going to love this release of the movie. While the Director's Cut doesn't differ very much at all from the theatrical version (I could barely tell the difference), the "Speshul Features" alone are enough to pick this one up. And one last thing: The DVD packaging, which resembles the envelope of one of Zodiac's letters to the newspaper, is very nicely done indeed. Definately catches the attention, both inside the set and out.