Stars shining, but a case that lingers on...
Movie summary: In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree. (IMDb)
Zodiac reminds me of Blade Runner 2049 in a way that I love, but might deter others from watching either: both cram in so much story that they feel like epic TV limited series more than movies. They're both methodical and measured in their pacing, meaning some might be put off by what can feel like a slow pace, but its genuinely astonishing how much they fit in despite neither reaching even the 3-hour mark.
This movie feels the most like that of the two thanks to how long a time the story takes place over, starting in the late Sixties and the final scene taking place in the early Nineties. On-screen text does let you know when time is jumping forward, so you're never lost as to why people are dressed or styled differently, although that would've certainly been a clear sign of how much time was passing anyway.
Zodiac is based on a book by Robert Graysmith, played here by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is as reliably excellent as always - how has he not won more awards in his career? As you'd expect, Graysmith is the central character, although the movie does feel more like an ensemble piece for a long time, with Grayson sharing the load with Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo).
If there's one - very minor - criticism I'd have of this movie, it's that the change to the focus being almost entirely on Graysmith later on can feel a bit jarring when it happens as you're used to multiple central characters at that point. But again, the movie is paced so well, and we get to spend so much time with Graysmith, that it quickly feels like a natural progression - helped by it being this way in reality.
A small qualifier here: Zodiac resembles Graysmith's recollection of reality, with a lot of what the movie portrays as near-certainties having been disproven since, including the identity of the Zodiac Killer. That's where Fincher was extremely smart though, as it is only 'near'-certainties given to us, never anything final or concrete - we're only seeing what Graysmith believed and not fact.
Still, there is something to be said for how real it all feels, knowing that these people existed and that a serial killer really did commit these acts and in the manner portrayed in the movie - each murder scene shown was recreated according to survivors and witnesses, without any additional dramatisation to embellish things and is why the Zodiac Killer's first two murders aren't shown: there weren't any survivors nor witnesses to say what happened.
There's also very clever use of CGI that you just don't think about while watching the movie, as I fully accepted each location as being as shown on-screen, maybe with a lot of set decoration. Except that wouldn't really work for outdoors scenes and a lot of what is seen in the background has been digitally altered to better reflect the time period. It's really great work that most won't notice, but absolutely sells what you're seeing on-screen as being the genuine article.
It should also be noted that, despite Zodiac being based on Robert Graysmith's book and featuring him as a main character, it certainly doesn't portray him in the most flattering light. I felt a huge amount of sympathy for his very sweet wife, Melanie (Chloë Sevigny), as his obsession with uncovering the murderer's identity consumes his life and destroys his family, costs him his job and almost his sanity.
I cannot stress just how much I love this movie thanks to that level of believability (authenticity not being quite the right word here), much of which obviously has to come from being based on real people and events, but Fincher does an amazing job getting that realism across without harming the story being told or the characters being affected thanks to absolute mastery of his craft, balancing every element of the film to ensure that nothing upsets the delicate balance of every sight and sound that lasts from start to finish.
Watching Zodiac again for this review was - rather inappropriately - like wrapping myself in a big comfy blanket to enjoy something truly outstanding. It's so good and the performances are just as fantastic (you'll forget that the central trio are Mysterio, Iron Man and the Hulk in no time) that, if you give it a chance, you might well feel the same way.
I wanted to sum up my experience of this movie in a simple manner, but I don't think that's possible as there's just a certain 'something' about it that really works for me - each piece (directing/writing/acting, etc) is genuinely brilliant and yet Zodiac is still - somehow - greater than the sum of its parts. It's an all-time favourite of mine and I cannot recommend it enough. Set aside 2.5 hours and just enjoy this brilliant, brilliant movie.
Zodiac is a brilliant movie that can be thoroughly recommended, even if its slower, more deliberate pace may put off some despite its necessity to show just how long-lasting and far-reaching the effects of the investigation had on those involved. It's one of the best movies of the twenty-first century so far and might just be Fincher's best movie, which is a hell of an accolade considering his filmography.