Hard to deny that this is Fincher’s magnum opus—this extraordinary crime procedural based on the unsolved Zodiac killings of the late 1960s is surely one of the most chillingly suspenseful films from the 2000s decade.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
Plot: Between 1968 and 1983, 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.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Serial Killer; Investigative Procedural
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
2007 was a fantastic year for auteur-led American cinema. There was P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, one of the greatest films of all-time in my books, and No Country for Old Men, possibly the Coens’ finest.
And then there’s Zodiac, which has since resurged back into the limelight on the occasion of its 15th anniversary, thanks partly to the success of The Batman (2022), which got folks interested in exploring one of its antecedents.
I first saw the David Fincher film in theatres and remember it to be a particularly chilling work. Now seeing it again, it is hard to deny that this is his magnum opus, an extraordinary crime procedural that is surely one of the most suspenseful films ever made in the 2000s decade.
Starring the superb trio of Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr., Zodiac centres on the unsolved ‘Zodiac’ killings of the late 1960s, and is based on the book by cartoonist turned amateur detective Robert Graysmith (played by Gyllenhaal).
“I need to know who he is. I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye, and I need to know that it’s him.”
Fincher’s brilliance comes from his ability to let his film flow naturally despite the dense and dark material. It may be talky but it is always riveting, interspersed with moments of dramatic tension as revelations compete with cul-de-sacs—everyone who’s involved in solving the crimes seems to be spiralling down an endless labyrinth with no hope in sight.
Fincher brings us deep into the psychological aspect of this down spiral so much so that while we have faith in the characters to last the course, we are always uncertain as to when that might end, prematurely or otherwise.
This is why Zodiac is so good. Cue Gyllenhaal and a basement—the stuff of real nightmares. And so are the shocking moments of violence that Fincher so assuredly sets up but thankfully relegates to the first act.
The film is long, but precisely captures the dogged persistence of humans on either side of the law—one side wants attention and recognition; the other clarity and closure.