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David Fincher
Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark
Writing Credits:
James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith (book)

There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer.

Based on the actual case files of one of the most intriguing unsolved crimes in the nation's history, Zodiac is a thriller from David Fincher, director of Se7en and Panic Room. As a serial killer terrifies the San Francisco Bay Area and taunts police with his ciphers and letters, investigators in four jurisdictions search for the murderer. The case will become an obsession for four men as their lives and careers are built and destroyed by the endless trail of clues.

Box Office:
$85 million.
Opening Weekend
$13.395 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$33.048 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 157 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 7/24/07

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Zodiac (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 9, 2007)

After a long delay, cult favorite direction David Fincher returned to the screen with 2007’s Zodiac. For the first time, he took on a true story, as Zodiac looked at a notorious northern California serial killer whose violent “career” began in 1968. The film starts with his second slaying on July 4, 1969, and then introduces us to those who will become involved in his case.

Much of the film concentrates on folks at the San Francisco Chronicle. We meet young political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and alcoholic reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.). The paper gets an odd code from the killer who demands that they run it or he’ll embark on a shooting spree. When deciphered, the message reveals the nutbag’s fantasies, and he eventually gives himself a name: “The Zodiac”.

This killer strikes again in September, as he assails a couple by a lake. These additional developments keep the Zodiac in the news, and he eventually brings his game to San Francisco when he shoots a cabbie. This gets the SFPD involved, and we meet Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). The rest of the film follows the path the cops and the reporters take to find the identity of the Zodiac.

To date, Fincher has only directed six films over 15 years, and there’s not a dud in the bunch. I’d classify 1997’s The Game as the weakest of his releases. 1992’s Alien 3 is probably the most flawed of his flicks, but I still find a lot to like in it, while The Game just leaves me a little cold.

While I’ve enjoyed all of Fincher’s efforts, 1995’s Se7en remains his masterwork, the one against which all others must be judged. Zodiac creates the most obvious room for comparison with that classic since both involve serial killers. However, they take very different paths, so Zodiac doesn’t come across as an attempt by Fincher to emulate his prior glories. He creates something different here that’s quite compelling.

As I went into Zodiac, I worried that it’d be something of a dud. Sure, I maintain a lot of faith in Fincher, but the nature of the subject matter caused concern. It’s no secret that no one ever conclusively determined the identity of the Zodiac, so that means we get a film without the usual “we got him!” conclusion. Add to that the movie’s long running time of more than two and a half hours and this looked like it could become a yawner.

That makes me pleased to report that Fincher pulls off a minor miracle with Zodiac. At no point do any of its potential negatives like its length and its lack of a clear conclusion mar it. Instead, Fincher manages to milk the material for all its worth to create a dynamic, involving investigation.

Fincher fully embraces the era in which Zodiac takes place. Superficially, he imbues the film with all of the period trappings; anachronism seekers will likely leave this one disappointed. Beyond that, Fincher also manages to make Zodiac feel like it comes from the late Sixties/early Seventies. The movie fits with efforts from that time, as it ignores the hyperactivity and quick-cutting of more recent efforts.

This doesn’t make Zodiac seem like a self-conscious throwback, though. Fincher doesn’t go the pretentious Good German route to create a flick that shoves its cinematic inspirations in our face. The picture’s period feel emerges in a subtle way.

Fincher proves to be a strong storyteller as well. He takes his time to tell the tale but he doesn’t waste space. Indeed, despite the movie’s length, nothing here feels extraneous. All of the elements come across as necessary pieces of the puzzle, so don’t expect fat along the way. This is a tight, well-told piece.

To round out all these successes, Zodiac boasts an excellent cast. They all embrace the low-key nature of the film, and their choices fit the story well. Downey proves especially effective. Yeah, it’s probably not much of a stretch for him to play a substance abuser, but he brings real life to Avery beyond his eccentricities. Indeed, Downey probably downplays the character’s quirkiness. He could’ve made Avery nothing more than goofy comic relief, but he lends depth and soul to this troubled personality.

I doubt that David Fincher will ever direct a film that I prefer to Se7en. I consider that effort to be the best flick of the Nineties and is maybe one of my top ten movies of all-time. However, Zodiac makes a strong case to be number two on the Fincher chart. Tense, taut and involving, it provides an excellent piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus D-

Zodiac appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Very few issues complicated this generally fine transfer.

My only complaints stemmed from examples of jagged edges and shimmering. Those showed up on more than a few occasions and could give the image a “ropy” look. They created notable distractions a few times, such as from some blinds at the 90-minute mark. I can’t recall a recent transfer with as many examples of moiré effects and jaggies; they’re not dominant, but they’re a bit of a nuisance.

Otherwise this was a pretty terrific presentation. Sharpness looked fantastic. The movie demonstrated sterling clarity and delineation at all times, as the flick seemed crisp and concise. No issues with edge enhancement occurred, and I witnessed no signs of source defects.

In terms of palette, Zodiac went with restrained colors. Much of the movie featured a slightly brownish tint that meant we found hues without a great deal of vivacity. Within those constraints, though, the colors seemed accurate and appropriate. Blacks appeared deep and firm, while shadows looked smooth and well-defined. Overall, this was a fine presentation despite some shimmering and jaggies.

I also found a lot to like about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Zodiac. Given the nature of the story, the soundfield focused mostly on environmental information. Some of the murder sequences opened up matters to a greater degree, but general ambience ruled the day. The mix provided a good sense of the various settings as it placed elements accurately and meshed them well. The surrounds added nice dimensionality to the track. They did little to stand out, but they bolstered the front speakers to contribute extra breadth to the mix.

Audio quality was solid. Speech always sounded concise and crisp, with no edginess or other issues. Music seemed rich and full, while effects were dynamic and accurate. Bass response proved deep and tight at all times. Overall, this was a very good track.

If you want lots of supplements to discuss Zodiac… you’ll have to wait for the special “director’s cut” release due in 2008. We get an ad for that in this disc’s Previews area along with promos for Next and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Otherwise, this version of Zodiac comes without extras.

After five years away from the big screen, David Fincher returned in a big way with the excellent Zodiac. A dynamic and intriguing glimpse of a notorious serial killer, the movie provides more satisfying than expected as it creates a truly memorable piece. The DVD gives us very good picture and audio but omits any significant extras. Zodiac deserves your attention, though big fans should probably wait for the special edition due in 2008. If you can’t wait, however, this bare-bones version will satisfy.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5151 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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