Director David Fincher made his name with cerebral thrillers such as Seven, The Game, Fight Club and Panic Room, so any new film from him is an event.

So I was looking forward to his interpretation of the Zodiac killings in late Sixties/early Seventies California. Adapted from cartoonist Robert Graysmith's book on the self-christened Zodiac, it follows the author (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) and cop David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) as they hunt for the killer in their own way. Avery and Toschi get involved due to their jobs, while Graysmith never met a puzzle he didn't like. What he hates is being unable to find a solution, hence his growing obsession with the killings. Who is Zodiac? Why Zodiac? Is he following a pattern?

Copy picture

Sometimes the trio work together, at others they tread separate paths. Finally, only one of the three is actively seeking the killer, by which point he hasn't struck or boasted of his crimes for years. Given that the film is based on real events, it spoils nothing to reveal that they never gets definitive answers, just likely theories. In fact, I'm sparing you from going in with false expectations - my companion was terribly disappointed that there was no resolution. Me, I was just let down by the journey.

Because this is, for Fincher, dull stuff indeed. The film's schematic is set in stone early on - a strict timeline in which we see murders, letters and puzzles mailed to the authorities and scrabbling by the protaganists for a lead, any lead. Seven people were definitely victims of the killer, who claimed a toll of 37 and threatened to murder many more - including a bus full of schoolchildren. We're told all this in tortuous detail, in scenes that span a decade or more.

And then the film just stops, with a series of captions telling us what happened to the characters, and how the mystery was never solved. Given that we've had almost three hours of the in and outs of life as an unsuccessful serial killer chaser, it's surprising Fincher chooses not to tie things up so far as possible with just a few more scenes. It's as if he simply loses interest.

And any audience member who hasn't lost interest long before this is a special breed of cinema-goer, for while this is well-written, acted, directed and so on, it's simply not very exciting. I can live without a resolution of the questions raised if there's some kind of emotional climax, but there's nothing here. One character's marriage disintegrates, another loses sleep, a third becomes a drunk (but as he's a newspaperman, he likely would anyway). The leads are never in any direct danger, with a few husky phone calls being the nearest the killer gets to them. And the victims are just there, on screen for a few minutes before being shovelled off-screen, the only marks they've made being bloody ones.

Only twice are you reminded that this is a Fincher production. There's a stunning 'time passes' sequence showing San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid rising, and a gorgeous birds' eye view of a fog-laden Golden Gate Bridge. Neither relate to the story, they seem a sop to an audience expecting Fincher's trademark flourishes. I'd have preferred it had Fincher made Zodiac as a documentary, presenting the known facts against Californian backgrounds interpreted with his music video director's eye. Or he could have just gone the fictional route, a la the first Dirty Harry (1971) film, allowing for action and resolution.

As is, this is a thoroughly OK film. If you find yourself thinking, 'I'd like a thoroughly OK Saturday night,' go see it. Just don't expect a thriller - this is more akin to a newspaper procedural such as All the President's Men. Though not as exciting.

Forget innocent men, women and children - perhaps someone should have killed this project.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2007
Share this with others on...
Zodiac packshot
A cop, a reporter and a cartoonist become obsessed with a serial killer in 1970s San Francisco.
Amazon link

Read more Zodiac reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****1/2
Chris ***
Stephen Carty ***

Director: David Fincher

Writer: James Vanderbilt, based on the book by Robert Graysmith

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian

Year: 2007

Runtime: 158 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


SSFF 2011

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Devil's Knot
Summer Of Sam