Zodiac is a film based on the reality of collected historical facts of actual murders that took place back in the late 1960s and 1970s in Northern California. These facts and assessment of facts from numerous sources, e.g., law enforcement officials, newspaper reporters, writing experts, and others—are the backbone of this movie drama. Unfortunately for some, the movie presents an information overload but does have the occasional violent scene to spur a growing need to solve the case and capture the Zodiac.
Director David Fincher, of Fight Club and Panic Room fame, did a marvelous job of getting actors, screen writers and crew to bring a basically dead, unsolved murder spree—back to life. Jake Gyllenhaal, of Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead fame, is Robert Graysmith, the San Francisco Chronicle’s cartoonist who becomes the primary pursuer of the Zodiac. He does an outstanding job of portraying a believable fanatical tracker who basically put his career, family and life at risk in the process. Mark Ruffalo, of Collateral and All the King’s Men fame, convincingly plays Inspector David Toschi, who is the primary investigator and an unwilling partner to Robert Graysmith’s wild chase after the Zodiac when everyone else has given up. By giving up I mean, the Zodiac would appear and disappear for years, then reappear. An often stated reason for not chasing Zodiac was the fact that a high rate of other murders and crimes were being committed and had to be solved and were taking precedent over older, unsolved ones like those related to the Zodiac.
The movie is entertaining and interesting for viewers who love to delve into the details of whodunits, with twisting plot lines that throw the trackers off the trail then back on again. A serial killer is on the loose in California, killing seemingly randomly. Today’s viewers used to the latest CSI crime drama TV shows that can solve complex crimes with new science applications that can now match DNA prints over classic fingerprints will be disappointed. Robert Downey Jr., of Tropic Thunder and Ironman fame, plays Paul Avery the San Francisco Chronicle news reporter who did articles on the Zodiac and had his life threatened by the Zodiac. His role was small but very effective in bringing the emotionally draining role of a reporter in full view. John Lynch, of Fargo and The Client fame, plays the alleged Zodiac character, or at least the character that keeps popping up as the most likely suspect, but is dismissed for lack of evidence.
Zodiac is a valuable piece of cinema for the simple reason that it plays on the weaknesses and strengths of the human condition. On the one hand, the villain is a psychopath bent on doing harm and dictating to the press and police that they play by his rules or people will die. It actually worked when the San Francisco Chronicle decided to publish the Zodiac’s letters. The Bay Area was in a panic during the years this case was unfolding, then it died down when it seemed like the Zodiac was no longer around. When he reappeared with his threats years later, the news media decided not to publish his threats and fewer police were officially assigned to solve the case. Robert Graysmith carries most of the backend of the movie when it became clear the police and the paper were no longer interested. Both entities had more current fish to fry.
The Zodiac movie starts and ends with an eerily sounding song, called the Hurdy Gurdy Man, sung by the famous Scottish singer known as Donovan. See this movie and you will walk out of the theater more determined not to let strangers tamper with the wheels on your car. You will not openly insult criminals still at large. And most important of all, you will not chase bad guys down dark alleys. You never know when the Zodiac will return and follow you home. See you at the movies.