More or less everyone who has even the slightest interest in crime knows of the Zodiac Killer and the intrigue of his crimes that plagued America throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. Such a famous case, one littered with the unsolved mystery that will, most likely, go unanswered for the rest of time. Such intrigue leads to inevitable adaptations, and this Gyllenhaal led thriller provides more or less everything you’d expect for a biopic on such a broad topic.
Because of how frequently mentioned and referenced Zodiac is within mainstream film discussion, it’s rather hard to ignore how much a newcomer could assimilate into their system without actually reading up on the movie. Avoiding just about anything I could of the movie in the way of spoilers, discussion and standing among film crowds, it’s still difficult to traipse through Zodiac with a completely clean break from high expectations. A film where the unanimously high praise will lead to an inevitable under-achiever, one that still plays well, but is predictable and at times just a rather innocuous film.
Director David Fincher’s attention to the detail of the case is presented with a great deal of confidence. His murky direction paints a rather drab setting, a cat and mouse game that leaves a handful of detectives and journalists obsessed with how stumped they are. The most microscopic of breakthroughs are presented as leaps in the right direction, and Fincher manages to bring out a superb array of emotions from this cast of frankly incredible actors. I’ve never been much of a Jake Gyllenhaal fan, but Zodiac presents a film where I feel rather comfortable in saying that his role is not only integral but perhaps the best part of the movie. He blinds himself with obsession, something that comes across as unhealthy, yet you can’t knock his devotion to figuring out who exactly the Zodiac Killer is.
There are no moments in Zodiac that make for essential viewing. Certainly an engaging viewing, there are bits and pieces where the pacing and performances fall in line with one another to craft for tense, engaging aspects. These moments feel saturated and subdued by the majority of other, less refined parts of the film. We mull around in offices, bars and homes as we watch journalists and police officers pinpoint the exact whereabouts and identity of the killer, but it feels a bit too stuffy and predictable at times. Robert Downey Jr’s supporting role as Paul Avery would be phenomenal if he weren’t brushed to the side at the hour mark, a timestamp in every other scene makes for a streamlined viewing, but one that detracts from the natural flow of the storytelling.
I can completely understand the love Zodiac receives, and there are more than a few moments throughout where I felt like I was falling for the same opinion, but the ultimate disconnect between myself and the pacing is just too big a deal-breaker. Gyllenhaal’s finest role holds proceedings together as effectively as possible, but it’s far from the high pedestal Zodiac finds itself placed upon. Competent, good fun, with thrilling bits scattered throughout a lengthy game of Guess Who?, the real kick to the face is that any conclusion the film can offer will be underwhelming when compared to the open-ended mystery of the real-world case.