Thursday, 19 March 2009

Before I kill you, I'm going to throw your baby out the window.

No 376 - Zodiac
Director - David Fincher

This film had to be good. For one simple reason. It is a film with a post rehab Robert Downey Jr and in this day and age he has been consistently brilliant in everything. And yes, he continues his trend of being brilliant in this and he gets most of the (relatively sparse) funny moments.

For this is a slow film. This is a slow burn about obsession and about trying to crack codes. This is an intense exploration of police work and reporting taking place over around 20 years. It is not the easiest film to watch. But it is very interesting....

The film follows three groups of people as they try to get to the bottom of the Zodiac Killings. You see how the police try and do it, you see how the San Fransisco Chronicle try to investigate into it and you see how Jake Gyllenhaal gets gradually obsessed with trying to crack the code. In this film Jake Gyllenhaal plays a cartoonist for the Chronicle and he is imbued with magical powers. These powers allow him to never age. For you see, the film takes place over 20ish years and yet he doesn't age a single say. Throughout the whole thing he remains a man is his late 20s.... What is his secret?

The film has a very interesting premise, which is nicely explained in the tagline:
There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer
but the film is so slow moving that it takes over an hour to reach this element of the film. The first half of the film is more akin to your standard serial killer film. You see the grizzly murders (although not in lurid splattervision) and then you see the aftermath, the police enquiries. It is a man hunt, a slow and calculated manhunt but it is fascinating to watch. It slowly explains what has been happening in the background, it explains how it how has Piqued Jake's interest and also how his funny little adventures with Robert Downey Jr help get him more involved in the situation.

The manhunt aspect of the film is very interesting until you remember one point. A point that greatly flaws the second half of the film.
This is based on truth. And in truth, they never caught the zodiac killer. So, we have a whodunnit, a suspense film, with no Who, no reveal, no resolve, no meddlin' pesky kids to save the day.
Sadly, it makes Jake Gyllenhaal's story quite dull. There are a few key suspects that the film hints at... but overall there is never a resolution. Every time you get to a juicy lead, it is just a lead to a dead end.. and after close to 3 hours (oh yes.... this is a long film.... Fincher seems to love them) it does get a bit disheartening.

I also wanted the Zodiac Killer to be a criminal mastermind.... and the clever tricks used to avoid detection do sometimes hint at that (writing letters with his left hand so that handwriting can't be traced). However, all the suspects are proper redneck hicks and the letters are written in a really weird way, like the scribblings of a child.
So we're left with a 'villain' who may be one person, or a group, or maybe just a bunch of copycat killers and with a cartoonist who is obsessing with catching the killer(s). Yet, we know he never will.
The story itself is not that compelling, but watching Gyllenhaal's (ageless) progress through life is absolutely compelling. The tragedy of his life as he begins socially awkward, finds a girl, marries, has children, only to lose it all as he refuses to notice anything besides his obsession.

I suppose that the film has the problem of being mis-advertised. It is a film that defies standard genre roles, so if you go into it expecting a police drama or a serial killer film, you will be disappointed. But as a study of obsession it is fascinating and just a little bit tragic.

And very long.


mandoran said...

This review reminded me of the recently published crime novel Swann's Last Song, which has been well received. Written over 30 years ago, it was only when the author finally agreed to publisher demand that the crime be solved did it get into print. Despite the quality of the book, no one would risk genre breaking and an open ending. A little bit about it here:

Dr.Zamboni said...

no comment about the film but i love your name, you might be just the kind of guy that would like Dr. Zamboni's Fascinating Life.