Thursday, January 10, 2008
I first saw David Fincher’s ZODIAC early last year when it was first released and suspected that it was a major modern American masterpiece. I deliberately held off re-watching it though when I heard that his directors cut was going to be released on DVD and I finally caught up with this new version last night.
While the director’s cut of ZODIAC is only a few minutes longer that the theatrical cut it is still a major event as a second viewing of Fincher’s film shows it to be one of the major works of not just 2007 but also the decade. It is frankly the kind of methodical bad ass production that very few modern filmmakers would even attempt and after slipping slightly with PANIC ROOM (which I really liked but it was a let-down after FIGHT CLUB) David Fincher restores his position as one of the most daring and innovative directors on the planet with ZODIAC.
The Zodiac Killer is one of America’s great modern mysteries and Fincher’s ambitiously ambiguous film serves not just the true life crimes well but also the period that they put a dark cloud over. From the eerie opening vintage seventies Paramount logo to the astonishing first tracking shots of San Francisco (which is some of the most seamless and convincing CGI I have ever seen) Fincher’s film works as not just an ultimate true crime film but as a ballsy tribute to the kind of intelligent American cinema that is rarely practiced anymore. With his meditative pacing and obsessive attention to detail, Fincher becomes more of a modern day Alan J. Pakula with ZODIAC rather than many of the stylish hyperkinetic directors he was originally compared to.
With a chilling score by the great David Shire (with a soundtrack featuring some expertly chosen songs of the period) and a cast filled with some of the best young American actors on the planet, including Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal and Chloe Sevigny, ZODIAC is an absolute joy to watch. Fincher has never been more intelligent as a director and with ZODIAC he manages to combine the heart wrenching emotion of SEVEN with the pulverizing stylistic choices of FIGHT CLUB. The combination makes for a striking and moving experience that works as one of the most human crime films in several decades.
ZODIAC’S script, taken from Robert Graysmith’s book, is credited to James Vanderbilt and it is a wonderfully rich and evocative work on its own. It is very impressive that such a young screenwriter, whose past credits include only such films as THE RUNDOWN and BASIC, could produce such an emotionally solid and complex script. The dialogue in ZODIAC is one of the most noteworthy things about it as it never sounds forced or unnatural. Vanderbilt has a major career ahead of him if he keeps in this direction.
The cast all deliver near career best work. Ruffalo is one of the great modern actors and he manages to disappear in each role he takes. His work here as Inspector Toschi is possibly his best performance and all of his scenes have a weary electric quality about them. Gyllenhaal is also exceptional, as is Chloe Sevigny in a small but memorable role as his wife. The film is also filled with some great veteran actors, such as Phillip Baker Hall and Brian Cox, and they are all splendid. Robert Downey Jr. gives his best performance in a decade as the boozing, coke snorting reporter Paul Avery. It is really refreshing to see Downey in a great film again doing the kind of work his fans know he is capable of. Look also for a surprising appearance by Candy Clark and two great one scene performances by Clea Duvall and Ione Skye.
As the prime suspect in the film and real life case, Arthur Lee Allen, great character actor Jon Carroll Lynch delivers a stunningly creepy but believable performance. The interrogation scene with his character is, quite simply, one of the best of its kind ever shot.
ZODIAC is a very odd looking film. Fincher and DP Harris Savides decision to shoot the film in a strange hazy green makes it one of the most distinctive looking works I have ever seen. Add on the striking digital effects and Fincher’s trademark dynamic angles and ZODIAC is one of the most original and individualistic works of the decade. It would have been real easy for Fincher to just try and emulate the look of many of the seventies films he is paying tribute to here but instead ZODIAC simply put doesn’t look like any other film from yesterday or today.
No film is perfect and I have seen some conceptual nitpicking of ZODIAC online but it is as close to as perfect a film as anyone is likely to make nowadays. Had the studio not dumped ZODIAC in the early part of 2007 and released it in the fall when they should have I think it would be getting all of the awards and accolades that a film like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is receiving. For the record I think ZODIAC is better than NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (and I thought that was near a masterpiece). With my re-viewing of ZODIAC, I am moving it up with MICHAEL CLAYTON as one of 2007’s five star classic films. The few extra minutes that make up the director’s cut of ZODIAC only make it a richer and more rewarding experience. The second disc of extras on the new DVD is absolutely fascinating as well, and it is already one of the must buy discs of 2008.
ZODIAC is a major work by one of our most important young directors, it’s so good in fact that I think it might even convince the anti-Fincher crowd (a crowd I have never understood but to each his own). Give it a look if you have been holding back but be forewarned, this isn’t a film that is easy to shake…and you will never be able to listen to Donovan’s HURDY GURDY MAN the same again.