Incomplete Zero

Completing the Nothingness

Friday, September 07, 2007

Zodiac: A Review

Hanfcrafted to Perfection
Se7en was gray, sharp, ominous and clever. Fight Club upped the ante: edgier, faster, gruesome and visceral. There were other films that came and went before, after and in between. With his latest, Zodiac, David Fincher has quite possibly, made his masterpiece.

Zodiac, a pseudonym under which a serial killer sent letters to San Francisco Chronicle, terrorized the city of San Francisco for about a decade since his first murders in 1969. The killer’s identity, though, remained unascertained. Zodiac, the movie, an intricately woven screenplay by James Vanderbilt based on two books by Robert Graysmith, who was actually a cartoonist at the Chronicle when the first of the letters arrived, is anything but a serial-killer movie. The object of Fincher’s obsession is not anything that is de rigueur in the genre, Se7en included: the gruesome murders, the ingenious method, the psychological motivation or the fear fuelled suspenseful build up to the climax where either the killer or Morgan Freeman wins. In fact, the murders are dispensed with within the first third of the film.

What Fincher is obsessed with is recreating the ambience of the 70’s San Francisco Chronicle office, the focal point of the action, and capturing the information and obsession in the hunt for the Zodiac as it passes, almost like an accursed spirit from one character to the other, both of which he does admirably well.

Most of the initial encounters take place in the faded yellow of the Chronicle office and Fincher brews the plot, the characters and the colours on a simmer. The extremely competent and eclectic combination of lead actors Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), the crime reporter covering the Zodiac murders for the Chronicle, Mark Ruffalo (Dave Toschi), the investigating officer with the SFPD and Jake Gyllenhall (Robert Graysmith) takes turns carrying both the film and the investigation to its denouement but with enough skill to keep the actors in them beneath the surface of the film.

Downey plays Avery effortlessly, almost like his alter ego, sliding and sashaying with nonchalant confidence and nicotine glibness. Mark Ruffalo embellishes his increasingly impressive resume through his most accomplished performance to date. But as good as Downey and Ruffalo are, it is Jake Gyllenhall in an almost inconspicuously nuanced performance that betters them both. But don’t expect Gyllenhall and Co. to sing paeans for their director. They have made no bones about their displeasure at having to, at times, give in excess of 70 takes.

Zodiac also happens to be the first film to be shot (Harris Savides) completely on a digital camera, the Thompson Viper Filmstream. Fincher says that getting to watch what he had just shot in full resolution made the process much less neurotic. The movie is expansive, dialogue driven, has a timeline of more than a decade and a half and a running time of 158 minutes. But such is Fincher’s mastery over his craft that the mood, tension and gravity do not slip even a single frame.
Zodiac breaking the mould of the serial killer genre, and even Fincher’s own oeuvre, is completely handcrafted. The raw talent for editing and visualization that gushed out of his body of work has finally crystallized into a mature command over the medium. It catapults Fincher closer to the rarefied league of directors who are venerated as auteurs.



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