February 19, 2008

Mini-review: Zodiac

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. Click here for the full list.)

Zodiac, the movie
Zodiac (movie; 2007)
Written by James Vanderbilt, from the original book by Robert Graysmith
Directed by David Fincher

Okay, I admit it, that I'm a big slobbering fanboy when it comes to several past projects by filmmaker David Fincher, despite his rather inglorious start as a director of trendy music videos; in particular, his early-career The Game is an overlooked gem of a mindf--k, and of course his masterful adaptation of the supposedly "unfilmmable" Fight Club stands in my mind as one of the best movies ever in the last twenty years. Ah, but then that fandom gets checked in my case against the times where Fincher has gotten things wrong; his first film, for example, studio hackjob Alien3, is mostly a laughable mess, while his Jodie Foster vehicle Panic Room from 2002 is about the most plodding, unexciting action thriller you'll ever come across.

I just got to see his latest, in fact, last year's historical drama and true-crime thriller Zodiac, and I'm happy to say that it very obviously falls into that first camp more than the second; it's certainly no masterpiece, but was definitely a lot better than I was expecting, given its only so-so take at the box office and the general ho-hums by the critics when it first came out. Maybe this movie was the victim of overinflated expectations when originally released? After all, it concerns a rather salacious subject, the infamous "Zodiac" serial killer from late 1960s San Francisco; he was not only one of the first notorious serial killers with the public at large, but through the cryptic clues to his identity that he sent to area newspapers became the center of a nationwide ethical debate, of whether it's right for the media to cater to the eccentric whims of the violently unstable. Not to mention that Fincher's production was to feature an all-star cast, including such underrated greats as Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox and Chloë Sevigny; I guess maybe a lot of people were expecting another visual extravaganza like Fight Club or Se7en (inarguably the most popular of all his films), and maybe such people ended up disappointed that Zodiac turned out not to be that.

Oh, don't get me wrong, Zodiac is a visually gorgeous film, just like all of Fincher's others; his take on late-'60s period details are so hyper-realistic as to become surrealistic, like walking through an entire city full of exquisitely immaculate cultural detritus. None of it is flashy, though, unlike a lot of Fincher's previous work, which is what I bet disappointed a lot of people when it first came out; although just as flabbergasting and complex as always, the visuals here are always done in service to the naturally fascinating story itself, never to call attention to the actual effects like is the case in so many of Fincher's other movies. It's the sign of a maturing artist, one who has a better and better chance of a long-term and respected career; and frankly, not a lot of youthful music-video directors ever get to that place of maturity, which is why in general I have little respect for most filmmakers who got their start as youthful music-video directors. A handle over visual trickery is one thing, but to understand where the best place is to utilize such trickery within a two-hour feature is quite another; it's a leap that a lot of young filmmakers never seem to be able to make as they get older, and I'm glad to see that Fincher is able to himself. Zodiac is a quieter movie than the rest of his ouevre, but this arguably makes it better than his usual stuff; it certainly marks a turning point for him as a filmmaker, and I'm willing to bet that in his next film or two we're going to see the payoff in a big way.

Out of 10: 8.4

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:28 AM, February 19, 2008. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |