Friday, January 28, 2011

Stuff I like:

I have now seen the movie Zodiac four times. I saw it in the theater, I rented it twice from Netflix and I now own my own copy. It may very well be my favorite movie made this century so far.

People from Northern California of my age will certainly remember at least some of the events the movie is based upon. Some guy calling himself Zodiac took credit for multiple murders in Northern California starting in the late 1960s and continuing into the 1970s. He wrote letters to the local papers, most notably the San Francisco Chronicle, and the papers published his letters and the cryptograms he included. The murders he took credit for did not all have the same modus operandi and forensic science of the time is like the Stone Age compared to today, so even the best evidence the police had was circumstantial and the leads supplied by the public largely useless.

The movie has re-enactments of a few of the crimes Zodiac took credit for, but the bulk of the film is about the investigation, some from the point of view of the police and a lot from the point of view of Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist for the Chronicle who became obsessed with the case, played in the film by Jake Gyllenhaal in one of the best performances of his career. The few gory scenes didn't bother me that much, and I usually have a very low tolerance for that kind of thing. It's the investigation that makes the movie fascinating. Again, being from Northern California, I already knew before I saw the movie that there was never an arrest or conviction for any of Zodiac's crimes, so each time a new name is brought forward as a suspect, you don't know how much credit to give the evidence the film brings forward.

Here is a picture from what may be the best scene in the film. Three detectives interview a worker at a refinery. From left to right, Elias Koteas plays Detective Mulanax from Vallejo, Anthony Edwards and Mark Ruffalo are the detective partners Bill Armstrong and David Toschi from San Francisco and John Carroll Lynch plays a "person of interest" named Arthur Leigh Allen. Of these actors, only Ruffalo can be considered a movie star. The rest of the guys are just working actors, but they are all pitch perfect, completely believable and wonderful at delivering the building suspense. I mean it as a compliment when I say that all of them are better at listening and reacting than they are at delivering lines, and they are perfectly competent at delivering lines.

The movie is played very low-key with the exception of Robert Downey, Jr. as the reporter Paul Avery, but his flourishes of flamboyance are completely in character. The cast is good up and down the line and the story is really about the victims of the investigation more than the victims of the murderer. It is directed by David Fincher, who also directed, Se7en, Panic Room, Fight Club and this year's Oscar nominated The Social Network. Those are all interesting movies in their own right, but if I was to introduce someone to Fincher's, I would absolutely start them out with Zodiac.

Matty Boy says check it out.


sfmike said...

Had to turn it off after the murder of the couple at Lake Berryessa. Just because it wasn't gory didn't make it any less creepy.

Matty Boy said...

Without question, it's creepy. The end credits use Donovan's song Hurdy Gurdy Man, one of the creepiest pop songs in history, to full effect.

Margaret Benbow said...

I admit I left the TV and went to make tea to get away from the goriest murder scene. But you're right, the movie is powerful and brilliant. I've wondered if better investigative procedures (especially DNA evidence which may still exist) would make it possible, now, to pinpoint the murderer.