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May 28, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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Zodiac

The mercurial David Fincher returns with Zodiac – his first film in five years. Having previously torn our heads off with mind-warping, psychological thrillers such as Fight Club, The Game and Se7en, Fincher’s return, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr, promised much. Beginning in 1969 and continuing through the 1970s, Zodiac follows the cops and journalists trying to solve a string of California killings by the sinister Zodiac, who blackmails the local newspapers into publishing cipher clues about himself. It is in many ways an extremely effective film: smart without being condescending, with intrigue aplenty, and at times wholly chilling. Having said this, it has two main problems.

First, the film is based on a true story, and it shows. For many directors this is not a bad thing. For Fincher, some of the visceral punch of his earlier films – which centred around highly improbable plots – is lost. There is much superfluous detail, which again does not necessarily detract from a film. I imagine real life murder investigations would be thick with false leads, red herrings and information gaps, much like here. But where Se7en and The Game pulled these elements together in a stunning finale of zany logic and extreme intelligence to diabolical effect (sorry about that sentence but if you’ve seen Se7en you’ll know what I mean), Zodiac is content to describe without enlightening or stunning you.

There is also a lot that is left realistically unexplained, (what happened to Gyllenhaal’s first wife?), which doesn’t always work in a movie. Adding to this, the film is overly long at 167 minutes. Covering more than a decade, it also jumps in an annoying documentary type way from scene to scene, helpfully telling you that this scene is “1 1⁄2 hours later”. Again, the focus is more on showing the detail as it emerges than staging a story.

But these things aside, the film is intelligent, engaging, superbly acted, beautifully shot (in digital, no less), and definitely worth three hours of your time.

DAVID FINCHER

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