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Directed by David Fincher.
Written by James Vanderbilt.  Based on the novel by Robert Graysmith.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards and Robert Downey Jr.
Release Year:  2007

Review Date:  2/27/07


When I got to the theater for a freebie performance of "Zodiac" last week in Georgetown, I was troubled to see that our theater was only half-full for what should make a decent amount of cash at the box office.  Directed by David Fincher, who in directing "Se7en", "Fight Club" and "Panic Room" over the last decade, "Zodiac" should have at least his cult following of fans in attendance and for whatever reason, this puppy was very lightly attended.

Not that they missed much.  The real-life incidents profiled in "Zodiac" follow the events of July of 1969 in northern California through an almost unreal series of killings, correspondence with the San Francisco media, and first the closing of the case following an undetermined number of murders only to watch the case be re-opened thanks to the work of a cartoonist who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle when the case first made headlines.  We start by watching the first murder on record, on July 4th, 1969, when the killer (who calls himself Zodiac) attacks a couple making out in a random park; from there, Zodiac sends his first letter to the Chronicle, along with a code that supposedly gives away his true identity in order to torment the police.  The cartoonist at the Chronicle, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), goes about trying to break the killer's strange code, while the paper's main crime beat reporter, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), tries to learn more about the police investigation into the killings.  The film "Zodiac" then introduces a second pair of individuals that we will follow throughout the course of the action--the two cops assigned to the Zodiac case, David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards).  Over the course of many years and many murders, we watch as the principals try to narrow their list of suspects.

"Zodiac" is quite the thriller...for the first hour.  As is typical of other Fincher productions, "Zodiac" is visually effective, featuring strong performances from even the bit players on the roster.  It is constantly in motion and is a thriller in every sense of the word.  Then, as we think we are getting close to the resolution, the thrill starts to fade a bit; this is due to any number of factors--following Graysmith's family life (the rise, his chance date with a woman played by ChloŽ Sevigny who he eventually marries, to the fall, when this woman presents problems with her--shocker!--demand that Graysmith walk away from the case), or maybe running out of killings to cover, or running out of puzzles to solve--but the main fade factor is this:

"Zodiac" is 160 minutes long!!!!

"Thrillers" don't last longer than "Dances with Wolves"--period.  No one is marketing the fact that "Zodiac" is this long, and with good reason; it literally kills any momentum built up over the first hour.  There is a point in "Zodiac"--multiple points, actually, but one point in particular that I can't mention without spoiling some things--where you are pretty sure the movie is over, only to find out that it is not over, in fact, that we are another hour away from the real end of the film, and you are sitting there thinking that you are in prison, helpless to move because you just want to see how things really work out in the end.  But, I can't believe that Fincher couldn't find a way to wrap this puppy up sooner.  It's agony to sit through.

That being said, "Zodiac" really does have a nice, eclectic cast with another strong Downey Jr. performance; the other folks are poorly-drawn characters played by standout performers, so this makes those roles quite watchable.  (At least, for a while.)  Any film set in San Francisco as a period piece is going to be fun for me, but strangely, the film isn't as sexy as I thought it would be even though I will admit the cinematography and intermingling of special effects is quite nice.  And, the family element of Graysmith's life could have been lopped off altogether and I wouldn't have missed it a bit.

"Zodiac" is disappointing, especially given how much I loved Fincher's last few films.  (Really, everything except "Alien 3" was at least good, if not great.)  Again, if you do decide to check this out, be sure to take a potty break before going into the theater; you'll thank me later for that!

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09