Zodiac - Schizophrenic but Effective

Duration: 120min
Category: horror
Available: On DVD
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I love the way David Fincher makes a movie. He, like my favorite film makers, creates an entire world for the story and the characters to move into. Then he attacks the story by finding clever and fascinating ways of getting underneath character and motivation, usually in a manner that is thrilling and genuinely engrossing. He does the same here with Zodiac.

Zodiac is the story of a number of real life investigations into the serial murders of a man who identified himself as “the Zodiac.” He was killing in the late 60s and early 70s but was even more infamous for his letters which he sent to news papers with cryptic clues to his diabolical plans. Fincher tells the story of a number of cops and journalists who are in one way or another obsessed with finding the killer.

As this remains an unsolved murder, there are no hard answers. Certainly the book and movie do point towards one suspect but Fincher does a great job of undermining that conclusion so that the audience is never sure. This is a real mystery with no easy answers and Zodiac doesn’t give us answers. Instead it presents possibilities. In fact, it seems the movie is more interested in the reactions of its characters than to solving the mystery itself. What motivates people to hunt down a predator? What does that motivation do to their lives?

The greatest strength of Zodiac is its characters. Movies based on real people have a hard time creating fully painted human beings but Zodiac succeeds in presenting a number of very interesting and entertaining characters for the audience to enjoy. While mostly sympathetic, they are wonderfully flawed and sitting in the audience you are drawn into their stories.

Fincher also succeeds in setting mood. The general sense of dis-ease is at first subtle but builds beautifully to the crescendo. While the film is less “stylized” than many of his previous films, there is still a very conscious effort evident to generate moods, feelings and tones that complete Zodiac.

Fincher has got to the point where he can fill his films with A-listers. Every bit walk on part is played by a recognizable name. Yet he manages this in a manner that is not distracting. It never takes you out of the picture.

Zodiac’s weakness is that it feels a bit bipolar, like it can’t quite decide what kind of film it wants to be. Sometimes it wants to be a thriller, with the killer possibly on the heels of our heroes. Other times it wants to be a mystery. Other times, a period drama. Fincher never really balances these elements perfectly and therefore the film feels a little weaker than it should. Having said this, the film remains engrossing. When Zodiac is a thiller, it’s thrilling. When it’s a drama, it’s dramatic. When it’s a mystery, it’s mysterious.

Zodiac is a strong addition to Fincher’s résumé and a great choice for a Friday night out. It may not slay you but it will certainly chill.

Review By: Collin Smith

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