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David Fincher's "Zodiac" (2007) - A Movie Worth Returning To

Zodiac is a horror film in the sense that there are gruesome murders. There is blood. It is immensely disturbing, suspensful, eerie and mysterious. But it's not a horror movie, at least not in the blood, splatter and gore sense of the genre. Cause though there's blood, there ain't that much. And though it splatters it don't splatter too far. There's no squirting, you know what I mean? In other words, at no point in the rather long film, do any large breasted women take off their tops to shower. (This is, for some, a tragedy; I know.)

Also, Zodiac rises well above the horror genre's deservedly bad name because it's populated by two of my favourite current Hollywood actors, and it is directed by one of the best in the game, David Fincher.

Set in a beautifully re-created California of the 1970s, Zodiac is based on the true story of the cops and reporters chasing after the serial killer who called himself The Zodiac. The film is what's called a police procedural. It is, then, sort of like a horror murder-mystery, except that it's also so much a character study of the men hell-bent on catching the killer.

As a film buff once taught me (at a time when I persisted in watching crap 1990s movie after crap 1990s movie just cause Roberto DeNiro was in them): Don't follow actors, follow directors. These are the movies David Fincher directed before Zodiac (let's pretend the yawn that was Benjamin Button - Fincher's astonishingly lame follow-up to Zodiac - never was):

Aliens 3
The Game
Fight Club
Panic Room

David Fincher is the kind of perfectionist filmmaker that makes every shot he chooses exciting, and tense, and beautiful, at least to movie nerds like me. With Zodiac, Fincher also exhibits a Kubrickian gift for music usage, doing for Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" what Kubrick did for Ludvig Van's "Symphony Number 9" in A Clockwork Orange, forever attaching creepy to a tune you may never have seen as such.

The film stars Jack Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. At least two of these actors (not named Jake Gyllenhaal) are the best Hollywood's got right now. Downey Jr. playing a famous person (a reporter) descending into self-destruction due to drug abuse (alcohol). And I'm sorry but who doesn't enjoy indulging in the perverse pleasure of watching Downey Jr. hurt himself with much, in this case, alcohol, humor, irony and of course pathos.

Easily as compelling, if less screen dominating, as Downey Jr. is Mark Ruffalo. He gets a paragraph. Some first saw him in a small film called We Don't Live Here Anymore. I discovered him, though, in smaller parts, as a cop in Michael Mann's Collateral,
and as the lab technician in love with Kirsten Dunst in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With Zodiac, Ruffalo finally gets the attention he deserves, playing a cop (David Toschi) so famous in real life, Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry was based on him. It's that Ruffalo makes such unusual, yet believeable choices. He plays Toschi with an oddly soft voice, a voice that contradicts all the tough guy inspectors we've ever seen on screen. And yet you believe this guy can bust balls, bring down bad guys, and, most gratifiyingly, actually seem like a human being doing this, not a muscle-bound movie star of the Tom Cruise variety that just looks angry a lot.

Ruffalo (OK 2 paragraphs) is the kind of actor that can sip a cup of coffee and make it interesting. He doesn't have much screen time with Downey Jr., a good thing too, since I think these two firecrackers have so much energy and humanity and humor and sexuality, not to mention oddity and an exponential whopping adding of nuance so intricate and interesting and full the viewer wouldn't know where to look.

Round out the cast with the smaller roles played by legendary character actors you're certain to recognize but may not know by name (the best of art films or the stage) including: Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, Anthony Edwards, Elias Koteas and Philip Baker Hall.

Like Fincher's manic attention to detail, Zodiac is itself a film about obsession. 3 men who give over so much of their lives to finding a killer, to trying to solve a puzzle, a mystery, a horror.

The same way you might savour reading Raymond Chandler or watching Wong Kar Wai, Fincher is a stylist, he's a Hemingway for the screen, so careful with each shot, so aware of each angle, the lighting, the framing, and a few hundred other visual details that this less than visually gifted, verbal learner couldn't possibly even take in, let alone articulate. But I know 'em when I see 'em and, let me tell you, this director's got the goods.