Director David Fincher (Se7en) has returned to serial killer territory in a very different way. Zodiac is an effective period piece that enwraps the viewer in a real-life mystery that remains unsolved because it happened before the age of computers and minute C.S.I. technology.
In 1969, a serial killer who eventually became known as the Zodiac struck for what is believed to be the first time. While the Zodiac continued to kill and take credit for murders for more than two decades, the killer eluded police, reporters and hobbyist investigators who tried to nail him down.
This film tells that story, split â€“ unofficially â€“ in three parts. The first third recreates Zodiacâ€™s most famous murders, and the famous, catch-me-if-you-can game with the newspapers and reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr., Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). The second act focuses more closely on the efforts of two detectives, inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, All the Kingâ€™s Men) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards, ER), who were on the case. Years later, when the leads have turned cold and most have forgotten about the Zodiac, the film picks up with newspaper cartoonist Robert Graysmith, (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko), who had watched the mystery destroy Avery, his friend. Graysmith and inspector Toschi are presented as the only two who remain obsessed with the Zodiac, and Graysmith sacrifices everything to pull all of the leads together to make a case against the serial killer, with guidance from Toschi.
As with many films based on true, unsolved mysteries, there is a great risk of disappointment with Zodiac. After all, there is no Hollywood payoff, no final scene where all is revealed to shock and satisfy our yearning for closure. Fortunately, Zodiac, in contrast with Fincherâ€™s Se7en, is much more about process than resolution. This is a film about obsession and its impact on those caught inside. Fincher, weaving the tight performances of a predominately male cast, keeps viewers riveted to the screen for more than 2.5 hours, and releases them with no answers, only hypotheses and â€“ above all â€“ questions to ponder.
Thatâ€™s not to say that the film doesnâ€™t move slowly. You have to be a patient viewer to fully enjoy Zodiac, which moves along like a film from the period it recreates, the darker, grittier 70â€™s. If that sounds like your type of film, then youâ€™ll find the mystery sticking with you long after the credits roll.
Zodiac is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As Fincher fans would expect, the film is a visual feast for the eyes. Itâ€™s dark, atmospheric and highly detailed, with cinematography and set design that perfectly recreate 1970â€™s Bay area, San Francisco. The transfer is spotless, with no issues to get in the way of Fincherâ€™s vision. Colours are always faded but also consistently so, and detail is sharp throughout. Even in this gritty filmâ€™s darkest scenes, of which there are many, viewers can still track the finer details amongst the deep blacks. No disappointments here.
Sound comes by way of Dolby Digital 5.1, and it does a fine job with the filmâ€™s audio. While there are no big effects at work, there are a variety of aural facets to this presentation, from the eclectic, moody soundtrack and suspense-inducing score to atmospheric effects and even masterfully employed silence. Dialogue is clear throughout.
Hereâ€™s where this release of Zodiac shoots itself in the foot. Not only are there zero special features on this disc, but amongst the offered trailers is a preview for a two-disc double-dip of Zodiac thatâ€™s due in the coming months. Well, at least theyâ€™re up front about it, but come on.
So here we have a riveting David Fincher film that explores the obsession surrounding an unsolved string of murders, presented with excellent video, solid audio and zero special features. Do I have to even say â€˜wait for the double-dip?â€™