Zodiac Review – David Fincher

5 Mar


Watch the Trailer here

I just saw the new David Fincher film, Zodiac. Zodiac is the film version of the books about the hunt for the Zodiac Killer by Robert Graysmith.

First off you need to know a few facts:

  • This movie is a true story
  • The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer that killed in the San Francisco area, as well as throughout California during the 1960’s. He was never caught. He used to send coded cypher messages to the local newspapers, and called himself Zodiac. Only one of his coded letters was decoded, and only partially.
  • Robert Graysmith was a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle. He became obsessed with the Zodiac killer and began a one-man quest to find out who he was. The book he wrote that became this movie is his story.

Several of the Zodiac’s cypher letters have never been decoded. Here is the longest one:


Anyway, on to the review.

First off, this is a Fincher film. Fincher is one of my favorite directors simply because everything he films becomes beautiful. He has done some of favorite films of all time including ‘The Game” and “Se7en “.

I noted Fincher made use of the SnorriCam technique in several scenes, most notably a birds-eye view of a taxicab as it drove throughout San Francisco. The last time i saw the use of SnorriCam was in the Mark Romanek music video “God Gave me Everything”

( watch the Romanek video to see what the SnorriCam does here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EASrVeAdFBE )

Other amazing shots include a bird’s-eye view over the San Francisco Golden gate bridge, and a shot of a plane as it sat on the runway. The killings that occur at Lake Berryessa are particularly well filmed. Beautiful. It adds a sense of eerie realism when you see these killings occur on broad daylight, rather than in dense fog at a creepy old house. The stabbings that occur in that scene are particularly disturbing, and probably the most realistic and excruciatingly violent stabbings I have ever seen on film. That scene really made me hate the Zodiac Killer.

I think some people came away disappointed because they expected a intense, frightening serial killer film along the lines of Fincher’s previous masterpiece, “Se7en”. This is not that type of film. It focuses more on one man’s obsession, that man being Robert Graysmith. His life-long obsession cost him his job, his family, everything. And in the end, it’s not even certain he found the real killer.

The film examines obsession in general, and if it’s really worth it in the end. His wife in the film says at one point “is this more important than the safety of your family?” since they had begun to receive anonymous phone calls that consisted solely of heavy breathing.

I enjoyed a few scenes in particular, such as one that begins with scissors cutting into a newspaper to retrieve a story on the Zodiac Killer. The viewer (or at least I did) assumes the person doing the cutting is the killer. Then the camera pans away and we see it’s Robert.

This follows the theme in “Se7en”, that there is a fine line that separates the hunter and the hunted, the killer and the protector. Fincher to me, was less interested in showing the audience who the killer was and more interested in showing what obsession does to a man.

I had a theory while watching the film that the nostalgic manner in which Fincher portrays 1960’s California was exactly that, a nostalgic revisitation to his childhood. I really felt like I was right there, growing up in the 60’s in California. In reading up on interviews with Fincher my hunch was correct, Fincher grew up in the area the Zodiac Killer operated, and he was “the ultimate bogeyman” as he put it. So Fincher also wanted to show the audience what his childhood was like as well.

In this I feel he succeeded. I felt transported back in time. The immersion was flawless.

The film did not feel as long as its runtime (2 hours 40 minutes). Overall it was an enjoyable experience and taught me lessons about what should be important in life. Obsession or those you are committed to care for. Essentially, Robert Graysmith’s journey was generally a waste. He uncovered nothing new, the killings remain unsolved, and most of the Zodiac’s coded letters remain uncracked.

The more I think about the film, the more I am inclined to believe that Fincher himself does not believe Graysmith’s theories.

The scene at the end in the prison, where Graysmith has a sort of nervous breakdown, sort of supports the idea that Fincher felt Graysmith had “lost it” at that point and was no longer objectively gathering facts but only hearing what he wanted to hear.

In conclusion, i feel this was a great Fincher film, a enormous comeback from the disappointment that was “Panic Room”.

A couple of facts for those that have seen the movie (SPOILERS)

  1. There is a abduction scene with a woman and her child that is shown in the movie. While it is true a woman claimed to have been abducted as depicted in the film, her story had so many discrepancies and changed in detail so many times, it is likely she made it up. I even remember while watching the film the style of the attack did not fit the MO of the Zodiac killer.
  2. The link between the Zodiac killer and his teenage victims (the opening scene) is controversial. It is generally believed that the killings were totally random, and any link between Darlene and the killer is extremely shaky at best.
  3. The man who called the TV show saying his name was Sam was later found to be a mental patient at a local psychiatric hospital.
  4. The conclusion of the film that Arthur Leigh Allen was the killer is not widely accepted. The DNA evidence that cleared Lee was pretty conclusive. Fincher himself stated he had personal qualms about “posthumously convicting someone”.
  5. The movie states that Graysmith solved one of the codes. He did not, FBI cryptographers later showed it was not a valid decoding.
  6. http://www.zodiackillerfacts.com/graysmith.htm go to this link to read many facts about Graysmith, discrediting his theories and work

One Response to “Zodiac Review – David Fincher”

  1. bishmanrock March 5, 2007 at 5:24 pm #

    Only ever seen SnorriCam used in one film: Julien Donkey-Boy. Or at least, what I could handle of the film. Far too disturbing for me. Good reflection of the movie though, that the person was seperated mnetally from everyone else …At least I think that was what it was trying to say.
    I hadn’t read much about this movie to be honest and wasn’t going to pay much attention to it, but the idea that it focuses on the guy’s obsession is really intriging. Cheers for the fleshed out info.

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