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April 14th, 2006:
During the 1960s and 1970s, a serial killer known only as “the Zodiac,” has the San Francisco bay area in a clutch of terror, killing innocent people uncontrollably and taunting police and journalists with letters, clues, and cryptograms. Several jurisdictions become involved in the sensational mystery, but the culprit continues to evade the authorities. Two journalists and two police officers become obsessively involved in the case. Highly intelligent editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal
) and self-destructive ace reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.
) are among the primary recipients of the killer’s many messages to their newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. The two begin to gather as much information about the case as possible. Meanwhile, skillful homicide detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo
) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards
) are equally consumed by the harrowing circumstances as they delve deeper into the investigation. The four men will become dangerously immersed in the puzzling case, which will either build or destroy their careers in the process.What to Expect:
The real life mystery, which gripped the nation in the late 1960s, was officially closed in 2004 and is still unsolved to this day. The shockingly brutal nature of the crimes and the eerie descriptions of the killer as a gunman in an executioner’s hood, were only part of the problem. “The Zodiac” killed some of his victims on county lines, involving five different Police Precincts and complicating the progress of the investigation in the process. Furthermore, he took pleasure in sending sinister letters to the police and to select bay area newspapers in which he taunted the authorities with cryptograms that supposedly contained his identity. Only one of his four codes has actually been deciphered and did not reveal the killer’s name as promised, but rather ominous messages along the lines of “I enjoy killing people.” The main suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, whose home was searched by officers on three separate occasions, died in 1992 without any legitimately incriminating evidence against him. The police have been so baffled by the case that many experts even believe that the real murderer may have never even been questioned. Article continues below
The film is based on the true story and is adapted from Robert Graysmith’s two books, Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America’s Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed. Graysmith strongly contended that Allen was the killer after all, but it has been noted that his books have exaggerated and even fictionalized some of the facts. Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time that the events are getting a big screen treatment. The most famous previous foray into the Zodiac murders would probably have to be Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, which starred Clint Eastwood in one of his quintessential performances. Steve McQueen’s character in the film Bullit was based on detective David Toschi, who gained near-celebrity status for his work on the Zodiac case. McQueen even had a replica of Toschi's custom fast-draw shoulder holster made especially for the film.
In what should be a tailor made project for him, the stylish visual auteur David Fincher
(The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room), who is also shooting Benjamin Button
back-to-back, will direct Zodiac. Noticeably, the film has a drastically similar storyline to Seven, the movie that catapulted Fincher to the top of Hollywood’s elite filmmakers list. However, this will mark the first time that the trendy director has chosen a true story as the source. He’s been able to create magnificent thrillers in the past, even masterpieces in terms of visual flair, but it will be interesting to see if he can bring honesty and integrity into a story based on actual events. Reportedly, he has gathered tons of information about the killings, interviewing anyone involved in the case. He has also made an impressive effort to shoot in as many of the actual locations and crime scenes as possible, which should produce a creepy atmosphere on screen. There’s no question that Fincher will have another spectacularly brooding thriller, but this one seems destined to stand apart from his previous work. Unlike Seven, The Game, Fight Club, or Panic Room, the unsettling story in Zodiac has no clear resolution at the end. This can only work if Fincher chooses to focus on characters over the story and that’s precisely what I think he will attempt. Zodiac will probably concentrate on the four men involved and their morbid fascination with the case more so than on the case itself.
Fincher has assembled the perfect cast to see through his vision. The innovative Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me, Collateral, Rumor Has It…) is rapidly becoming a consistent contributor as a lead actor in Hollywood. He can play the quiet and withdrawn type, but definitely has the ability to kick up his intensity for the role of a hot-shot cop. Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin, Natural Born Killers, Gothika) has been one of the most diverse actors in America for at least a dozen years now and it’s good to see him back in one of the lead parts in a major production. He has an uncannily natural ability to disappear in all of his roles and I rarely catch myself thinking about his “acting.” Honestly, I have difficulty imagining that this is the same person who has had numerous drug problems over the years, which is a testament to his abilities as an actor. Jake Gyllenhaal (The Day After Tomorrow, Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain), on the other hand, still gives off a vibe of youth and inexperience that I cannot quite get past in his serious films. He was outstanding in Brokeback Mountain, but I still had trouble accepting him as an older man in the later scenes. Although he may be the hottest of the three actors at the moment, I feel he may have the most trouble pulling off his role. Additionally, Zodiac is filled to the brim with some of cinema’s most versatile talents in supporting roles. Brian Cox
, Chloë Sevigny
, Dermot Mulroney
, and Elias Koteas
stand out in particular.In Conclusion:
David Fincher fans, do not fret, as Zodiac is sure to feature plenty of the murky atmosphere and innovative style you have come to love. The film will be shot entirely in digital format, which continues Hollywood’s drive toward new technology in the medium. Along with Michael Mann
’s Miami Vice
, Zodiac will be one of the first two films in an uncompressed digital video format thanks to the Thomson Viper FilmStream camera, which was used on both sets. In the early stages, the movie should be a thriller in the traditional sense, but as it progresses, the reality of the situation will set in, transforming it into a challenging character study. The film will not attempt to reveal the killer’s identity, but will instead strive to understand and question the intense fanaticism of the investigators. For Fincher, this could be his first awards contender as he appears to be abandoning finely-polished pulp for a stab at finely-polished character drama. The spectacular cast and the serial killer plot should drive audiences into the theaters, recalling past successes such as Seven or Silence of the Lambs. Film buffs should be delighted, but the lack of a clear resolution to the mysterious murders may leave some feeling unsatisfied.Similar Titles: Seven
, Silence of the Lambs
, The French Connection