There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer
This 2007 David Fincher film is based on Robert Graysmith’s book which was adapted for screen by James Vanderbilt. Graysmith was a cartoonist working for the San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper at the time of the Zodiac murders in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. Officially the Zodiac killer was never identified and caught by Police and to this day remains a mystery. While working at the Chronicle, Graysmith became fascinated with the case, and even after the Police gave up trying to find out who the serial killer was, he was hooked in the hunt. Graysmith eventually went on to write a book about the subject, detailing his experience and the evidence he found. The book is the subject for this film.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Robert Graysmith in this semi-biopic film about the American serial killer who haunted San Francisco dubbed “Zodiac”. There are quite a few big names actors in this film, such as Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards who play the main police inspectors; Robert Downey Jr. and Brian Cox work at the newspaper running the main coverage (Downey Jr. is playing Paul Avery who took the lead on writing and also interacted with the killer too). Also, in the cast are actors like John Terry, Chloe Sevigny, Donal Logue, and John Carroll Lynch – all of whom give great turns in their roles.
This is not your average Hollywood serial killer/ cop film. With it being based on fact Fincher tries to concentrate on what is known rather than what makes an exciting scene for the audience. So, you will not find typical high intensity action; no car chases scenes using typical San Francisco roads, no shoot outs between good guy and bad guy. There are only really two, maybe three scenes in the movie which show events from the killer’s point of view. Usually this is a standard trope of such films so the audience can create a connection to the characters, even if it is to recognise that the audience are watching the ‘bad guy’. This film does not do that, when the killer is present you do not see their face. The closest you get it when potential suspects are shown later in the film. The film is more a character driven film, showing how people who were involved (particularly Downey Jr, – the reporter, Gyllenhaal – a cartoonist/ obsessive, and Ruffalo – the lead investigator) in the story handle it and how it affected them. The events and investigation wore some people down, some turned to drink and drugs, some people became highly motivated, some frustrated shells of themselves. Everyone who was touched by the happenings surrounding Zodiac were affected in some way or another, even none central players who just happened to be living in the city were gripped by fear for a period of time. This emotion and tension came across in the film beautifully. For this reason, the movie tag line gets it spot on, suggesting “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer.“
With a runtime of 157 minutes this is a very long film. Bear in mind that its a character driven and development film because there are times where those 157 minutes seem to be dragging on a bit with lots of dialogue. I wondered if the runtime could perhaps have been cut down a little bit, but from what I have read, Fincher already cut parts out and was not happy about doing so. On release this was rated 15 in the UK, but short of a small bit of bloodshed and death, its mainly the suggestion of violence that serves to give it that rating. The acting is superb, and with great cinematography and a gritty score this is a good film. Don’t expect a happy ending though because of course this is a film based on fact, and (if you didn’t know) the killer was never identified. Weirdly one the cypher/codexes that the killer used has only just been worked out this year (2020). That’s 51 years and still the true killer isn’t know!! What you can expect from this movie is a very long but well-polished, tense, and thrilling character driven film which remains engaging enough to entertain, and covers some of the key facts unearthed throughout the investigation. It’s based on Greysmith’s book who had a front row seat to the investigation.