Director David Fincher's follow-up to the excellent "Panic Room" is "Zodiac", an epic murder mystery (based on the book by Robert Graysmith) that follows the unsolved "Zodiac killings" that occured in California in the late 60's and early 70's. However, the events of the movie extend all the way to the early 90's.
Early in the film, political cartoonist and former Boy Scout Robert Graysmith sits at a table at the San Francisco Chronicle when a letter from a killer who calls himself the Zodiac arrives, demanding that the paper to run the code that he's sent - or else. The Zodiac incidents eventually start happening in San Francisco, starting with the death of a cab driver.
While hard-drinking reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is the one assigned to the case, Greysmith follows along, quickly becoming obsessed with trying to find any details that he can in order to try and solve the case. Meanwhile, inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner, Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) frantically try to track down a lead.
While the police eventually find a suspect in Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch), they don't have a case and eventually, the Zodiac case eventually turns quiet and cold. Avery falls apart due to alcohol and Toschi eventually finds that other cases eventually have to take up his time. Greysmith, however, continues his quest, which leads to him leaving his job and relationship with his new wife (Chloe Sevigny) suffering. While Greysmith manages to put the pieces together enough to point to the culprit, the case was never solved and the movie ends the same way, with some brief summary text of the conclusion of the case.
While Fincher has always been considered a filmmaker with a remarkably bold visual style, "Zodiac" is certainly a change. This time around, Fincher works with cinematographer Harris Savides ("Gerry"), who films here in an uncompressed digital format with a Thomson VIPER FilmStream Camera, the same camera that was used for parts of director Michael Mann's "Collateral" (and a few of the night scenes in the streets of San Francisco has a similar feel.) The film lacks the sweeping camera moves of Fincher's prior films, but the film's slightly faded, amber-toned cinematography does capture the film's excellent recreation of the time periods well. So, while certainly more restrained visually than Fincher's prior films, the film's visual style is still rich and detailed.
Given the resolution (or lack of resolution), Fincher turns this into a procedural that follows these characters and tries to get into the atmosphere of the time and place when the Zodiac situation was taking place and he's mostly successful. However, I did have a few issues with the film, starting with the fact that the picture could be trimmed a bit. While Fincher has made a remarkably engaging film at nearly three hours, a little bit of excess here-and-there could have tightened the pace at least somewhat. The movie's never boring - an impressive feat, especially given the fact that I knew the ending wasn't going to provide any answers - but the movie does have a few moments where it drifts.
As for the performances, Gyllenhaal doesn't quite manage to portray Greysmith's obsession with the case entirely convincingly, but it's still one of the actor's better efforts, especially when the performance starts to build in the second half. As respectable as Gyllenhaal's performance is, he's overshadowed a bit by Downey, Jr., who provides a compelling performance as Avery, whose sorrow and problems are hidden just below the surface. Ruffalo is also excellent as the determined investigator and Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, Sevigny, Lynch and Brian Cox provide great supporting turns.
The movie is probably a touch longer than it really needed to be, I felt, and I wasn't completely sold on Gyllenhaal's performance. Otherwise, this is another superb effort from Fincher, who creates an incredible atmosphere and feeling of dread throughout this often haunting film. This director's cut offers an additional 5 minutes of footage.
VIDEO: "Zodiac" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Aside from a couple of minor concerns, this is an excellent transfer. Sharpness and detail are terrific, as the picture showed no signs of softness and looked crisp and very well-defined at all times. Some slight traces of pixelation were spotted, but the picture otherwise remained clean and clear, with no edge enhancement or other flaws. Colors looked subdued throughout the show, but looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other concerns. Black level remained solid and flesh tones looked natural, as well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.l presentation remained dialogue-driven throughout much of the show. The majority of the audio was spread out across the front soundstage, but surrounds were used effectively at times to deliver some ambience and minor sound effects. Audio quality was excellent, with crisp, natural dialogue, a full-sounding score and clean, well-recorded effects.
EXTRAS: "Zodiac"'s first disc offers a commentary from director David Fincher, as well as commentary from author James Ellroy, actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr., writer/producer James Vanderbuilt and producer Brad Fischer. Fincher's commentary is another incredibly informative chat track from the director, who has a long history of providing richly detailed and insightful discussions of his films. We learn more about the film's visuals, working with the actors, Fincher's childhood memories of the events, history, story choices and more. The additional commentary is also excellent, as well, and manages to go over a lot of the same topics without too much overlap.
The second disc starts with "Zodiac: Deciphered", a 53-minute documentary that starts with one of the most surprising facts of the documentary: writer James Vanderbuilt informs the viewer that the rights to the story were initially at Disney, who I can't imagine doing this sort of a film now or in the past. Vanderbuilt also talks about meeting with many of the real-life characters that were involved in the story in order to do research, as well as the search for a director, which started and ended with Fincher. Vanderbuilt does sort of take on "hosting" duties, discussing and setting up a good deal of the footage that is shown from on-set. As for the on-set footage, we get some terrific behind-the-scenes moments, including some on-set preparations, meetings and more. The documentary goes over working with the actors, production design, locations and much more. It's an excellent piece that's very much worth a viewing.
"The Visual Effects of Zodiac" is a 15-minute doc that looks at the film's CGI work. While the film doesn't seem like one that would require much in the way of CG, there are many subtle CG elements in the film, which are pointed out throughout - such as a sweeping reveal coming over the water of San Fran from the time period that was completely created in CG. Also in the area of "The Film" are three pre-vis sequences and the trailer.
Starting off "The Facts" is "This is the Zodiac Speaking", a nearly 2-hour documentary looking at the facts of the case from many of those involved. Throughout the running time, the documentary explores the different incidents involved in the "Zodiac" case and we hear a great deal of memories about the different cases. This continues in "Prime Suspect", a nearly 50-minute look at the main suspect in the case, Arthur Leigh Allen.
Final Thoughts: "Zodiac" is another superb effort from Fincher, who creates an incredible atmosphere and feeling of dread throughout this often haunting film. The DVD presentation offers top-notch audio/video quality, as well as a superb set of supplements.
The Film B+