Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Zodiac (2007)

I remember thinking that I wanted to see Zodiac back when it first came out, but I passed up the opportunity, and it took me over five years to finally see it. I had seen a documentary on TV about the Zodiac Killer (the real life serial killer this movie is based on, who was never caught), not too long before that. Zodiac is an ambitious movie, with a long running time clocking in at over two and a half hours. I don't know how many dramatic liberties the movie takes with the real life facts of the case, but from what little I know, it seems at least superficially faithful to the real life story. And aside from simply being a story about a serial killer, and the police's attempt to catch him, the movie capitalizes on the way that this particular killer captured the fear and imagination of the public.

The Zodiac Killer is, especially the way this movie tells it, the JFK assassination of serial killers. He killed several people in and around San Francisco in 1969, and sent several letters to local newspapers containing secret messages written in code, some of which were printed due to threats that the killer would kill more people if they were not. He was smart and careful enough to evade police capture until his public image grew to the point where police were too swamped with copycat wannabes and false confessions to follow up on any real leads. Poignantly frustrating is the fact that on one occasion, police only narrowly missed catching the guy immediately after one of his kills, because they were looking for a man with the wrong description, and, at least in this movie (I'm not sure how accurate this is to the real life case), police finally caught up with a suspect who was very likely the killer, even going so far as to arrogantly taunt the cops interrogating him, knowing that they didn't have the evidence to arrest him.

Zodiac can pretty much be split into two parts. The first part depicts the killer's actions and the ensuing media frenzy they inspired, which serves as a fairly conventional big budget dramatization of the facts of the case, and the personnages involved. Among the latter are stars Mark Ruffalo as the lead police investigator, Robert Downey Jr. as a news reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, and Jake Gyllenhaal as the quirky cartoonist whose life will become consumed with writing a book about the Zodiac case in the second part of the movie. His pursuit of the identity of the Zodiac Killer after the trail has gone cold becomes an all-encompassing obsession, and it is here that we see how the quest to solve the mystery resembles a conspiracy. Ultimately, the climax depends on whether the writer's obsession is leading him to a definitive answer, or is evolving into an insanity that will tear this man's life apart.

In spite of its long running time, the movie does move at a brisk pace, and you have to stay alert to catch all the little details. I can't really say much about the case's adaptation to the big screen, not being an expert on it myself, but I enjoyed the movie and I thought it was put together very well. The soundtrack is particularly good, taking a lead from the late '60s/early '70s time period where the initial action occurred. I wouldn't really describe it as a horror movie, but I found it to be an effective crime drama, and a compelling intellectual puzzle, as the real case has proven to be. Whether you're a serial killer afficionado, or a conspiracy buff, you'll probably want to give this movie a look.

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