Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Zodiac (2007)

You kind of have to be an obsessive nerd to really love David Fincher's Zodiac. I'm an obessive nerd, hence I loves me some Zodiac.

Being an obsessive nerd means I'm consumed with deciding where it belongs in the Fincher canon with Fight Club, Se7en, and Panic Room (As an obsessive nerd, I also feel obligated to at least name The Game and Alien 3, even though don't belong in the same category). At this point, I feel like it might be the best of all of them but I definitely need to see it a second time, and I definitely want to (say it with me one last time: obsessive...nerd...)

Though reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, most of the people I know personally who saw it were decidedly lukewarm and my trusted chums on the utterly essential podcast Filmspotting weren't a whole lot hotter. But I had two hours and forty minutes to kill and I do enjoy all the genres the movie appeared to be from the trailer: a cop film, a serial killer movie, a horror film, a thriller, a chase movie, and a period piece that doesn't call attention to its period-ness. Zodiac is all of these things — and it is all of these things rather successfully, I think — but it is primarily a story of the rabid pursuit of an illogical goal. Robert Graysmith said so himself in his introduction to the book on the Zodiac Killer that formed the basis for Fincher's film: "If there is one key word for the entire story of the Zodiac mystery, it is obsession." In some ways, I think that makes Zodiac, whatever details Fincher leaves out of the true chronology of events, one of the most faithful adaptations of all times. Obsession is palpable in nearly every frame: from the heroes, from the villains, and, above all, from the director himself.

(And, yes, as further proof of my own wacked out brain, I know this quote is in Graysmith's book because I left the movie theater and promptly walked over to a large, incorporated book seller and purchased the mass market paperback edition of it — a characteristically fantatical and overenthusiastic gesture on my part)

Graysmith was just a cartoonist at The San Francisco Chronicle when a psychopath began writing letters to the media confessing to several murders in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968 and 1969. He also sent complex code ciphers that he demanded be printed in the paper, or he'd kill more. The case was never officially solved, and to this day its not entire clear who Zodiac was and even what crimes he committed and which he simply took credit for. There's a great deal of confusion surrounding the entire case, right down to what the killer looked like: different witnesses had different physical descriptions, so Fincher even got different actors to play Zodiac, based on the specific incident.

All the performances are dynamite, right down to the little ones, including Brian Cox as a lawyer who gets embroiled with the Zodiac when he demands to speak with him on live television, and Anthony Edwards (sporting an absolutely glorious toupee...Nicholas Cage, you need to work with Edwards' wigist ASAP) as Mark Ruffalo's exhausted partner in the SFPD. The murder scenes are cover-your-eyes terrifying, and the police investigations absolutely riveting. Maybe I'm crazy, and I was the only one laughing in the theater, but I thought the movie was also quite hilarious at times. But you've got to be as much of a nut as you are an obsessive nerd to get Fincher's sense of humor (Remember Fight Club? It's like Fight Club except the actors don't sell the jokes).

On my good friend Mike Anderson's blog, Tativille, someone critiqued James Vanderbilt's screenplay for feeling "incomplete" (in not including enough on Paul Avery's life after he left The Chronicle, for example) and for its shifting narrative focus. They were well-reasoned, and well-argued criticisms, but I disagreed: Avery's life after The Chronicle is also his life after The Zodiac, and thus largely irrelevant to the film, except in the ways it can teach us how the Zodiac investigation impacted and, to varying degrees, destroyed the men who undertook it and, to my mind, Fincher and Vanderbilt address all of these issues adequately. And I dug the multiple perspectives as well, if only because through them I felt Fincher and his own fevered desire for the truth about Zodiac coming through. In essence, he is committed to presenting the most interesting, the most disturbing, the most truthful facts of the Zodiac case at any given moment. At times, that means we must follow Toschi, and other times it means following Avery and, later, Graysmith. Sometimes that means seeing the Zodiac's killings, or seeing acts that could have been committed by the Zodiac.

The ultimate star of Zodiac isn't the killer, or even Gyllenhaal, Downey, or Ruffalo. Instead, it's the weird specter of dread and fixation that hung over San Francisco and many of its citizens like a fog rolling over the Golden Gate Bridge. It's the same specter I felt when I walked out of the theater and over to that bookstore to buy Graysmith's book. I understood the need to know more, loved the way Fincher showed me everything he could, and appreciated the slight hint at the end that there was even more out there for me to discover on my own.


Blogger Don Rodriguez from The Bronx said...

That book is TERRIFYING by the way. My dad owned it when I was young and the composite sketch (b/t/w, aren't all composite sketches terrifying?) of the Zodiac-at-Lake-Berryessa's serene, fat face still frightens me when I think about it today. And this was before I could even spell "banality" and maybe even "evil." To avoid fitful sleep, I implore you to tear the photo pages out NOW and burn them.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Matt Singer said...

This is a very good idea; the only problem is I've already seen the movie and the Zodiac-at-Lake-Berryessa scene is probably just as terrifying as the sketch is.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Don Rodriguez from The Bronx said...

You may be right. I had always assumed there were much worse ways to die/be injured, but stabbing is newly painful and revolting now.

9:05 PM  

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