David Fincher’s first foray into non-fiction film-making, and his sixth feature: Zodiac is a strong contender for the crown of the director’s filmography. One of the most terrifying, non-horror films you’ll ever cast eyes upon. Based upon Robert Graysmith’s book of the same name, the film is a multi-decade spanning thriller that captures the hysteria of San Francisco amidst the spree of killings committed by the now infamous: Zodiac Killer.
Anchored via the specific tale of Robert Graysmith, a newspaper cartoonist turned amateur sleuth, we see the man fall to obsession, his near brushes with serious harm and the proxy impact upon his personal relationships. Whilst boasting enough character depth to fill three films, we’re never allowed to forget the bigger picture in Fincher’s piece and the runtime does an excellent job at painting the different scales/levels of interest, panic, fear, and the like – something that effectively builds the setting into a character itself and unlike most other true crime media does manage to forge a crystal clear atmosphere of unbridled terror which, no matter how many time you watch the Fincher film, never fades.
With a gist of the attractions on offer, I’ll begin what’s practically going to be unending praise for the film, which is perhaps the closest thing we’ve had to a cinematic epic – aside from perhaps the Lord of the Rings trilogy – this side of the millennium. With the theatrical cut alone boasting a 157-minute runtime, Zodiac is almost purpose-built for an ominous, rainy day and while that fact is the culmination of a whole array of elements, it’s part of the reasoning I, personally champion it as Fincher’s finest works. In all, Zodiac is a culmination – it takes the sense of character found in the likes of Fight Club and marries that to the procedural thriller bits from Se7en with incredible success and style. With meticulous detail and seemingly an immense amount of creative will, this would become the groundwork for the currently-on-freeze Mindhunter series and is essentially the first flex of Fincher’s rounded credentials as a filmmaker, and filmmaker in the digital age. With storytelling nothing short of masterful, effects of the highest order and a string of performances perfectly directed, it’s as close to flawless as you could possibly get, tense, respectful and gripping it somehow one-ups all that Se7en offers and has genuinely never been matched in the genre since.
Visually, the film is nothing short of jaw-dropping. From landscape shots of various period-accurate San Francisco locales and landmarks, its replication of chilling, genuine media events or incredibly personal and emotive sequences with its characters, Harris Savides’ cinematography is genuinely stunning and only something that compliments the direction of Fincher. Perfectly capturing heart-pounding tensity to the monotony of the day-to-day, it’s nothing short of truly incredible and is equally baffling as to why the film’s not held in higher regard.
This leads on to the final aspect: performance. A full house of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, the manic performance from Jake Gyllenhaal at the heart of it all. Losing himself to the chase of finding the killer, his turn as Graysmith is the embodiment of electrifying and should be the bar for acting in this niche type of film – impassioned and titanic, it affirms his quality as an actor and he equally bounces off his peers: Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.
Briefly on those two, it’s a slight change of pace to see both in a supporting role given their immense fame off the back of involvement with the MCU, but both deliver enough to mark themselves as individual characters and solid foils to our protagonist, highlighting their significant roles in the reality of this case.
A measured true-crime piece that truly holds your gaze and attention for its whole length – Zodiac is one that words can’t do justice to, it genuinely has to be seen.