Zodiac (15)



Thriller (2007)
157mins US

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox
Director: David Fincher
Writer(s): James Vanderbilt
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

In the sweltering summer of 1969, the Bay Area of San Francisco shuddered with fear at the mention of Zodiac, the nickname of the serial killer attacking its residents. Law enforcement agencies seemed powerless to stop the madman, who sent taunting letters to the media. Four men - detectives Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong and journalists Paul Avery and Robert Graysmith - to bring Zodiac's reign of terror to an end.

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LondonNet Film Review
Zodiac

In various books and essays on the history of criminal mind, America is credited as the birthplace of the majority of the world's serial killers. Zodiac was, or perhaps still is, one of them...

A young couple in a car is stalked by a serial killer in Zodiac. Photo by: Merrick Morton.  2007 Warner Bros. Ent. and Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.In the sweltering summer of 1969, when most of America was preparing to celebrate peace and free love at Woodstock, the Bay Area of San Francisco was gripped with fear. The editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the Vallejo Times-Herald received similarly worded letters. "I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman & the girl last 4th of July..." began one missive.

With it came part of a cipher, which claimed to reveal the sender's identity. "If you do not print this cipher by the afternoon of Fry, 1st of Aug 69, I will go on a kill rampage Fry.night," warned the letter. All three editors obliged, fearful of the repercussions, and thus the legend of Zodiac - as the killer would later call himself - was born.

More murders followed: a picnicker stabbed in Napa County and her boyfriend left for dead; a taxi driver shot in the back of the head. Law enforcement agencies seemed powerless to stop the madman, who continued to send taunting letters, including more coded messages.

Paul Avery (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.) and Robert Graysmith (JAKE GYLLENHAAL) in Zodiac. Photo Credit: Merrick Morton.  Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. No reproductions or publication of these photographs permitted.David Fincher's exhaustively researched thriller follows the efforts of four men - hard-nosed homicide detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), charismatic San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) and the paper's shy cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) - to bring Zodiac's reign of terror to an end. The men become obsessed with unmasking Zodiac, following the trail of clues for decades, edging ever closer to self-destruction.

Director Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) once again demonstrates his visual flair with some brilliantly orchestrated set pieces. The nerve-shredding murder of the teenage lovers in their car at the beginning of the film leads eventually to a horribly tense aerial view of Paul Lee Stine's yellow taxi cab cruising through Presidio Heights en route to its deadly final destination, with Zodiac sitting in the back.

Fincher ensures a brisk pace despite the endurance-testing, indulgent 157-minute running time and a surfeit of historical detail, culled from interviews, archive footage and Graysmith's personal recollections in his book of the same name. Attention to detail is meticulous, but doesn't always make for exciting cinema.

Gyllenhaal takes top billing as the quiet observer, who almost sabotages his marriage to wife Melanie (Chloe Sevigny) by trying to crack Zodiac's devious clues. However, it's Downey Jr's film as the glory-chasing newsman who almost loses his sanity in the pursuit of a headline. His character's spectacular fall from grace, physically and emotionally wrecked by his addictions, comes uncomfortably close to echoing the actor's life. To this day, Zodiac has not been unmasked and one 340-cipher cryptogram remains unsolved. With the release of Fincher's intense and enthralling film, the hunt continues.

- Jo Planter


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