Monday, July 31, 2017

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #171 - Zodiac (2007, dir. David Fincher)

When Zodiac came out in the spring of 2007, I had grown very fatigued with the trends of the time for forensic procedurals and entertainment based around true crime. I avoided a lot of crime-based movies and TV shows during this time because I felt that the fascination for increasingly graphic representations of grisly homicides had lured mainstream entertainment down a dark alley with no way out. With Zodiac, David Fincher broke new ground in a heavily exploited genre by commanding an incredible ensemble cast anchored by three career-standout performances, embracing an unorthodox structure that beautifully fits the narrative, and creating an unforgettable statement on the interplay of crime, journalism, and entertainment that has come to dominate U.S. American culture in the last fifty years.

David Fincher prefaces Zodiac with the uncommon, yet highly accurate statement, “what follows is based on actual case files,” before dropping the audience into the middle of an engrossing, stylish depiction of the night of the first Zodiac murder on July 4, 1969. The next scene unfolds four weeks later when the first coded letter from the Zodiac Killer arrives at the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle and attracts the attention of crime reporter Paul Avery and editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith. A few weeks later Detective David Toschi and his partner drive to the scene of the next murder as the mystery, terror, and spectacle of the Zodiac case pull the Bay Area’s police departments, newspapers, and general populace into a legendary and unprecedented state of alert. Just a year before Robert Downey Jr.’s career skyrocketed into resurgence with Iron Man, he injects bravado and a charismatic zeal into his portrayal of Paul Avery, but also layers his performance with a self-destructive pathos that deepens as the film progresses. In the role of Robert Graysmith, Jake Gyllenhaal plays upon his boyish good looks, but also conveys a dogged sense of innocence and curiosity in his representation of the former Boy Scout and one-time cartoonist whose tireless obsession with this case resulted in the best-selling book on which this film is based. Mark Ruffalo adds a slight lilt to his voice and a disarming, gentle demeanor to his depiction of homicide detective David Toschi, who served as the model for Steve McQueen’s character in the 1968 film Bullitt. Through warmth, compassion, and a constant craving for animal crackers, Ruffalo’s rendering of Toschi confounds many of the clichés of seasoned homicide detectives that populate Hollywood movies. Brian Cox contributes a delightful cameo as celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli and delivers one of the film’s most surreal moments as Belli discusses his recent guest performance on Star Trek with a local news anchor before a televised conversation with the Zodiac Killer. As Robert Graysmith’s wife Melanie, Chloë Sevigny builds a knowing determination and empathy into her portrait of a woman whose marriage and family slowly fall to pieces as her husband follows the cryptic and labyrinthine path left by the Zodiac Killer.

By sticking to eye witness accounts of the Zodiac Killer’s crimes, David Fincher builds a true crime story that subverts many of the genre’s conventions by digging into the minute details of the case’s logistical and legal challenges, jurisdictional conflicts, media sensationalism, false leads, and copycat trends. In addition to these unusual narrative elements, Zodiac plays further against genre by focusing more directly on the people pursuing the killer than the killer himself. Fincher tops off an already excellent film by embracing pop culture connections like the case’s tricky relationship with Dirty Harry, while simultaneously paying homage to modern classics from the era as divergent and distinctive as The Conversation, Jaws, and All the President’s Men.

-          John Parsell

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this flick, possibly my favorite Fincher film after Se7en. Having read the book by Graysmith made it even better, which is a rarity :)