Friday, March 09, 2007


"Here comes the Hurdy Gurdy Man, he's singing songs of love..."

Imagine a film that combines ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN with SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Now imagine a good version of that movie. Try. Okay. Now. That movie in your head is not just in your head. It is David Fincher's ZODIAC, and it is very much worth seeing. Much to my surprise.

You probably know by now what the film is about: the search for a serial killer, and all that. ZODIAC is not what usually passes for a detective thriller: that cliched parade of ugly murder scenes with occasional police interruptions culminating in a Big Finish with the killer vanquished until the almost-inevitable sequel. ZODIAC reverses this formula, giving us a parade of investigation scenes punctuated with occasional ugly murders. The investigation really is the thing in this film, and there are scenes of cops and reporters talking and going round and round what sometimes feels like the same material over and over. This is at least partly the point, as the main thrust of the film is the hold that the Zodiac begins to have on the people involved in the investigation, eventually turning into an obsession on the part of Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

That this never gets dull is due in no small measure to Fincher's admirable cast. Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr., to say nothing of a host of other fine actors like Dermot Mulroney and Elias Koteas in smaller roles. I liked watching Downey and Gyllenhall together; their comedy-tinged scenes are the perfect foil to Edwards and Ruffalo's no-nonsense work.

I'd not been a fan of Fincher's earlier films, like SEVEN or FIGHT CLUB or THE GAME. They all just seem to suffer from serious Style-itis. Fancy editing and special effects and mood all over the place (the police in SEVEN seem to have no idea how to switch on a light), rather surprisingly predictable plots (anyone who thinks for a moment about which Deadly Sins have not yet been enacted will be two steps ahead of the cops in SEVEN) all combined with a feeling that some kind of never-clearly-articulated Big Message is intended (what the hell was FIGHT CLUB really about, anyway?). ZODIAC has what none of Fincher's other films have had: people I give a damn about, in a story I found interesting. The visual flourishes made sense (the Transamerica Tower assembles itself onscreen to show the passage of an extended chunk of time) and the mood-inducing touches actually worked. I found myself getting terribly upset at the approach of a car playing Hurdy Gurdy Man on its radio.

And I stayed terribly upset, even after the final credits rolled. I got a paranoid contact high from ZODIAC, one that had me jumpy and nervous and just generally creeped out all the way home. ZODIAC stayed with me in a way that few movies I've seen recently have.

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