Movie Review : Zodiac (2007)
Ten years ago, Josie and I were in line for David Fincher's new movie Zodiac, which I was super excited about, when she told me: "Ben, that new comic-book inspired barbarians-in-underwear movie looks neat. Can we go see that instead? I feel like seeing that kind of movie today." Of course, my first answer was : "No, we can't," but we ended up seeing 300 that day and both of us hated it. That fateful day (I still remember the date. March 9), marked the beginning of my adversarial relationship to Zach Snyder movies. I like to believe I pioneered that because everybody liked him then.
Josie's main argument for not seeing Zodiac was: "we'll see it next time. It's going to have a long theater run anyway with all these great actors in it," which was reasonable enough but it was out of Montreal theaters a couple weeks later. It took me ten years to get to Zodiac, but it was worth the wait in many ways I didn't expect.
In case you didn't know, Zodiac in based on a book by Robert Graysmith, which is considered to be THE reference on the Zodiac Killer case. The movie is actually the story of Graysmith's (Jake Gyllenhaal) involvement and growing obsession with the hooded serial killer who terrified young lovers and recklessly taunted the police in open letters in late sixties, early seventies California. Zodiac also follows the frustrating investigation lead by Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and draws a sweeping portrait of how a real-life boogeyman took the entire system hostage and created a climate of fear and incertitude all over California in the late sixties, early seventies.
The Zodiac Killer case is a story without a satisfying ending. He was never caught and we'll never know for sure who he really was. Zodiac uses the real-life events of the unsolved murders in order to make a point about the artificial nature of film and media narrative in general.What happens when you can't just confront and kill the bad guy? Why don't people do just that and rid the world of all evil through violence? It rebels against simplistic narrative structures such as these, which we crave in our free time. There is this amazing scene in the middle of the movie where the characters go to a Dirty Harry screening, a movie HEAVILY inspired by the Zodiac Killer case. The Hollwyood version of the events has Clint Eastwood shooting the killer in the chest while David Fincher's has Inspector Toschi walking out of the theater fuming and lamenting the lack of due process in movies.
And the beautiful thing is that David Fincher loves to remind you that you're watching a romancitized version of the most unromantic police case you'll ever come across. It's a GORGEOUS-looking movie. Pay attention to Fincher's use of yellow in particular, which symbolizes danger. It's in every scene where the Zodiac Killer is directly involved and, what's interesting, is that some of these objects are painted a different color whenever he's not. The murder scenes are also pretty memorable in Zodiac because they're so different. The first one is more conventional with blood spattering and victims scrambling in slow motion, but the second one is absolutely terrifying in its realism. It's as raw and unromanticized as it gets and it probably freaked a lot of people out already. The striking difference between the two scenes can also be interpreted as a commentary on mediatized truth. There is how people perceive murder and how brutal and senseless is actually is.
Zodiac turned out to be as great as I anticipated, but I was surprised at how sharp and cerebral it was. It's not quite the visceral thrill I expected ten years ago, but I've really enjoyed the deconstruction of media narratives it offered. It's an aesthetically beautiful movie that aims to subvert everything you'd expect from movies who look this good. It's weird and disorienting, yet it works. Zodiac was meant to be seen by the 2017, cynical and disgruntled pop culture-addled me. It's smart, engaging and it manages to be creepy even if it's based on events that happened such a long time ago. It's probably one of my top three favorite David Fincher movies.