As I was leaving the theater I still hadn’t made up my mind about David Fincher’s (Seven) latest “Zodiac.”
But as I got in my car, I glanced with noticeable tension in the rear view mirror into the back seat, half expecting someone to be there. Now, that’s what a thriller is supposed to do…entertain and put a little irrational fear in you for the trip home.
Fincher is obviously deeply fascinated by the “Zodiac” killer’s highly publicized spree. The film succeeds on many levels, one of which is making at least this audience member a bit obsessed myself with the case – much the same way “JFK” made me stay up nights watching all five parts of “The Men Who Killed Kennedy.” I found myself wondering if all the methodically represented facts were accurate and thinking “I should go buy that book…” – “Zodiac,” the actual novel written by real life cartoonist/author Robert Graysmith (portrayed in the film by Jake Gyllenhaal).
Fincher clearly knows how to tell this kind of story. We’ve seen convincing evidence in “Fight Club,” “Seven,” “The Game” and even “Panic Room” that Fincher has a knack for suspense and a propensity for the psychological and for the brutally violent. At this point a reasonable question might be- what else can he do?
“Zodiac” is frightening -as well as a little lengthy – as a result of its clinical approach. The film clocks in at two hours and 36 minutes, but feels like three because of the chronological presentation and extremely thorough history of these investigations. Unlike the rave-in-the-lab style of “CSI” or the conflicted-attorneys-at-law humdrum of “Law and Order,” this film digs deeper.
Fincher trots out the unglamorous problems inherent to law enforcement of the seventies and eighties. The investigators face issues of jurisdiction, emerging technologies in forensics, and communication and cooperation across county lines and between state and federal officials and one pesky serial-murdering-nut-job who reads the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Zodiac” is a compelling account of the missteps and misfortunes of one of America’s most notable unsolved mysteries. Some may not respond well to the every-detail style of the film, but this one stays with you long after you’ve left the theater. And once again, Fincher doesn’t disappoint, a fact which is admirable considering we’re in a period of time sadly lacking good thrillers, and he’s made four.