(Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, et al / DVD / R / 2007 / Paramount Home Entertainment)
Overview: A serial killer in the San Francisco Bay Area taunts police with his letters and cryptic messages. We follow the investigators and reporters in this lightly fictionalized account of the true 1970's case as they search for the murderer, becoming obsessed with the case. Based on Robert Graysmith's book, the movie's focus is the lives and careers of the detectives and newspaper people.
DVD Verdict: David Fincher, director of the fascinating, impeccably composed, cerebral "Zodiac" has not heretofore been known for his subtlety though his "Fight Club," "Alien3" and "Seven" are filled with Life and a doomed even ugly sense of reality. But "Zodiac," the story of the Northern California serial killer, who was more aware of his reputation and celebrity than any Hollywood starlet, gives us a subtler, more rational Fincher than his previous films would suggest.
There is very little of the trademark Fincher violence and brutality here and more of a psychologically astute and emotionally cognizant one.
"Zodiac" is a story of Men working together for a common goal: that of capturing the Zodiac killer. There is the Police primarily consisting of San Francisco PD Homicide, David Toschi (a remarkably committed and persuasive Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (stalwart and dedicated Anthony Edwards) and the San Francisco Chronicle reporters Paul Avery (intelligent, pathetically alcoholic Robert Downey) and Robert Graysmith, who would go on to write the book about the Zodiac murders portrayed by the excellent and wounded, ultimately crazed-by-the-case, Jake Gyllenhaal.
As a rule, in most movies of late dealing with serial killers, the serial killer is merely a jumping off point for brutal and disgusting slash and dash murders. But here Fincher has stepped back, adjusted his sights and telescoped on the psychological and emotional effects of the killings, the endless procedural details of the investigation (handwriting experts, the "2500" suspects), the letters sent to the SF Chronicle by Zodiac and the detritus of a 20+ year investigation that wears down and whittles away at any kind of normal life for Toshi and Graysmith.
As such "Zodiac" is more about the furtive, brutal legacy of the Zodiac murders and its effect on these two men than it is about the Zodiac killer himself.
Gyllenhaal plays Graysmith as a man possessed: alternately repulsed by the Zodiac as a mass murderer but at the same time fascinated by his facility with the obscure language of codes, symbols and puzzles and his seemingly insatiable, preening desire for celebrity. Matching his intensity is Ruffalo's Toschi. Ruffalo has never been more persuasive and effective even bettering his feral performance in "In the Cut." Both men are obsessed with Zodiac and both pay for this obsession with the hard currency of years and loves lost and never regained.
"Zodiac" goes on a bit too long but its ultimate success can be attributed to its brilliant, careful and intricate accumulation and dissemination of case detail that forms the backbone of this tragic, interesting and intelligent film. The larger tragedy that this film inadvertently points out though is that Zodiac's murderous swath across California in the mid 20th. Century now seems oddly remote, old-fashioned and even quaint in this time of 9/11 and international terrorism. This is a Widesreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs, but (amazingly) does not come with any Special Features!