‘Zodiac’ sees the signs | VailDaily.com

‘Zodiac’ sees the signs

Ted AlvarezVail, CO Colorado

Director David Fincher is best known for thrilling, innovative camera moves and a purposeful darkness seeping through all his films – techniques which he largely abandons on his latest movie, ‘Zodiac.’ While he revisits the serial killer territory he stalked in the groundbreaking “Seven,” this movie (which is based on documents culled from the decades-long Bay Area investigation of the “Zodiac killer”) is more of a meticulous recreation of events, one-part police procedural and one-part psychological investigation.Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a political cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle who begins to take an extracurricular interest in solving the mysterious puzzles the Zodiac killer sends to the paper and the police. Together with the Chronicle’s sharp-but-chemically-preoccupied criminal reporter Peter Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the dogged SFPD homicide investigators David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), Graysmith spends decades searching for the killer, even as threads of evidence peter out and lead to dead ends.Fincher grew up in the Bay Area during the Zodiac killer’s reign of terror, and he’s stated in interviews that he remembers being driven to school after the killer threatened to murder all the schoolchildren on a bus. He captures the paranoia a serial killer on the loose can inspire, but he’s also not afraid to let that paranoia fade into the background as daily life fills the spaces between Zodiac’s cryptic letters to police and the media. He also steeps the film in a ridiculous amount of period detail; the yellows and browns of the 70s permeate the walls, and smoke wafts in places it hasn’t for years (newsrooms, airplaines, offices). The modern actors appear very much in the 70s, and to a one, the entire cast delivers smart and naturalistic performances. (Backstory: Fincher reportedly took more than 50 takes per scene, beating the artifice out of his actors.)Mark Ruffalo is especially good as the detective who loses a large chunk of his life to a fruitless investigation, and Downey, Jr. plays a wasted talent with wit and verve, likely drawing on his own experiences as an almost-wasted talent. Gyllenhaal looks hyper-boyish, but it suits Graysmith as we watch him change from a well-meaning “boy scout” into a dangerously obsessed amateur investigator. The movie’s biggest stength is also it’s biggest failing: ‘Zodiac’ is careful to avoid cliche, and its airtight plot introduces every element needed to understand the case, but the sheer number of intricate details can be mind-boggling. It doesn’t invent chases or showdowns that never happened, but when its protagonists get bogged down in the details of getting warrants or cooperating with police departments outside the jurisdiction, we get bogged down, too. Ultimately, the developments are fascinating enough to keep our attention, but over a 2:45 running time, it gets close.The movie follows Graysmith’s conclusions without committing to them; this is an unsolved crime, and Fincher never portrays it as otherwise. This might feel like a hollow ending to some, but it’s ultimately Fincher’s final frightening touch. We are forced to face two harrowing conclusions: 1) from time to time, real serial killers exist among us and 2) eventually, no one will care. Which is scarier?Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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