David Fincher hasn't made a bad movie, I'll say that right now so that people know how biased I am when it comes to his work. I'd even go so far as to say that he's made at least three modern masterpieces. One of those modern masterpieces is Seven, a movie which really reinvigorated the thriller genre after too many years of safe, but enjoyable, movies that all had a movie sheen to them. Zodiac certainly isn't Seven, but it's most definitely made by the same man who shows such attention to detail and seems to always find some new way to treat material from any genre.
Zodiac is about the Zodiac killer, and the lives that he changed. The strange thing, and the thing that many people will know before the movie begins, is that the Zodiac killer was never caught. A Jack The Ripper for the modern age, he committed his crimes, taunted the police and deliberately kept changing his M. O. to stay one step ahead of those trying to catch him. The fact that he was never caught explains why Zodiac is half a film about a serial killer and his crime spree and half a film about the obsession that he sparks in those who become involved in the investigation. The murders start to consume Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and even a cartoonist who starts to weigh up the evidence and begin his own amateur investigation (Robert Graysmith, who wrote the book that the screenplay was based on, played by Jake Gyllenhaal).
Closer in feel to All The President's Men than Seven, and all the better for it, this is a tour de force mix of great acting, superb attention to detail and sheer bravura (as Fincher paces the film perfectly while also jumping through the years to various pivotal points in the investigation and the life of Graysmith).
The actors already mentioned give performances that show just why they're often heaped with praise, but the supporting cast features other people effortlessly doing what they do best. People like Elias Koteas, Anthony Edwards (so good here that it makes me wish he had more good roles through the years), Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, Donal Logue, Philip Baker Hall, John Carroll Lynch, Candy Clark, Dermot Mulroney, Zach Grenier, Charles Fleischer, Clea Duvall and Jimmi Simpson. You may not know recognise all of the names, but you will know most of their faces.
The script by James Vanderbilt may be hampered by having to stick to Graysmith's interpretation of events, but it's pretty flawless in all other respects. Dialogue informs the viewer about both procedural events and each character is nicely rounded out, both in the usual way and also in the way that the ongoing murders begin to affect them.
Everyone deserves praise for working together and achieving such a great end result - director of photography Harris Savides, David Shire who created the score, the hundreds of people that it took to get the look and feel of everything just dead on - but it's all overseen by David Fincher, who shows, once again, just why he's a director I always support. I know that there are people who will pick at least one of his movies to highlight as a bit of a mis-step, to say the least, but I really don't feel that. He's a master of the medium, able to elevate even average material into something well worth seeing. With the story that he's handed here, it's almost another masterpiece. Almost.
To hear my gushing praise, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I view this as a perfect film, but there are a couple of minor flaws that see it falling short of perfection. First, the fantastic script also has a few too many lines that make for great soundbites as opposed to real exchanges/replies. That worked better in The Social Network, but seems a bit incongruous at times here. Second, the first half is understandably a bit rougher than the second half, with so many characters needing introduced and the whole situation being set up. The second half becomes rather more streamlined as people fall out of the big picture, leaving only those most caught up in the events to see it all through to the very end, whatever that end may be.
Despite those small flaws, I was still tempted to rate this film as perfect, but I ended up going with near-perfect instead. See the film for yourself and find out whether or not you agree with me.