Film of the Week: Zodiac (2007)

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David Fincher directs Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and John Carroll Lynch in this matter of fact look at the people who investigated a series of unsolved murders in the 60s and 70s.

Fincher is the most accomplished and exciting director working today but you get the feeling that since Zodiac he has taken all his genius, skill and craft to projects he does not care quite the same about. Some of those post-2007 movies are modern classics (The Social Network, Benjamin Button) but noticeably the work of an overqualified, gun for hire rather than a personal quest. Fincher seems actively engaged and seduced by the source material here, like this was the film he was born to make. And that clear and present obsession is the touchstone for the story entire. Fincher has recreated this dark period not to revel in a narrative where a killer is caught, or unspeakable crimes are committed, but to try and capture the emotions and actions of those who tried to make sense of the real life horrors. The code breakers, cops, reporters and Jake Gyllenhaal’s  slightly off the spectrum take on Robert Graysmith. A long, immaculately detailed look at bringing order to chaos, resolution to the still open mystery. Never has a film quite shown the grind of an investigation that goes nowhere, though Citizen X and Memories of Murder reached for the same goal. 100 minutes in and every life we meet or return to from them on out has been twisted and ruined in the aftershocks. It is not a dry movie either. The crimes are chillingly involvingly, as is Carroll Lynch portrayal of the prime suspect. Downey Jnr is a hoot in a showy role but a sly humour coarses through all moments except, pointedly, the murders themselves. Despite a focus on the day to day, it remains an engaging thriller and an actorly ensemble piece. Note perfect scene blends into note perfect scene. An overpoweringly effective journey into darkness, our hand held by those willing to keep going further and further into the murk. It is not as simple a spook house ride as the flawless shock machine of Se7en but Fincher has left us here with his true detective epic, more than companion piece to the more popular fictional serial killer horror he made his name on, this is an exhausting exhumation. By the time the credits roll you have felt like you have dug up all the graves with your bare hands. You walk away from Fincher’s masterpiece with dirt under your fingernails and images you cannot unseen.

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