Reel Reviews
By: Jennifer Fratangelo
September 7, 2012

Movie: "Zodiac" A Chilling Portrayal of Obsession and Murder

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Movies based on books are often scrutinized based on how close to the source material they are, but "Zodiac" has the distinction of being able to be compared to a popular best-seller and to the actual events that took place.

The real Zodiac serial killer, a man that wore an executioner’s hood while caring out grisly murders, and who taunted the police via cryptic letters sent to local newspapers, was a strange enigma that terrorized parts of Northern California during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He thrived on garnering attention from the press, claiming to have killed many more victims than what could be linked back to him, while inciting fear in some, and obsession in others.

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And one of the most terrifying elements to the real-life case: the Zodiac was never caught.

The film, released in 2007 and directed by David Fincher ("Seven", "Fight Club"), shows how the case unfolded, how the murders were dealt with, and how the people it affected handled living with their intimate knowledge of the case.

Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle when the first letter and cryptogram from the Zodiac is received. The letter gives details to a set of murders that had never been released to the public, and demands that the local newspapers splash his name, and cryptograms, on the front page or more murders would take place.

This short letter sets off a life-long obsession for Robert who dedicates all of his time and energy, sacrificing his family and well-being, into solving the case.

Aiding him in his quest for the truth is his co-worker, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), and Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who becomes the lead investigator on the case. These three men, all of different backgrounds and experiences, are forced to work together on-and-off throughout the duration of the murders, but as Avery and Toschi begin to move away from the Zodiac case, Graysmith vows to see it through to the end.

In a bid to write a book (a book that this movie would actually be based on), Graysmith continues his research, reaching out to anyone who could help him and who would be willing to listen to his theories, and it is during this critical period that he uncovers shocking revelations, and gains himself unwanted attention from the possible Zodiac killer himself.

"Zodiac" is a supremely underrated film that is chilling and suspenseful. The all-star ensemble cast is spectacular, everyone turning in mesmerizing performances. Gyllenhaal stands out in particular as he plays the slow build of obsession very well; when his character becomes tense, you become tense. Downey Jr.’s descent into addiction and, for a brief time, paranoia, is alluring, and Ruffalo’s frustration at not being able to catch the Zodiac is palpable.

The score compliments the film well, either helping you relate to the decade, or by subtly manipulating your emotions. The pacing drags a bit throughout, but it is not so terrible as to be a distraction.

As a person who read the book the movie was based on, the adaptation is spot on, and reading the book as well as seeing the film is recommended, especially if true-crime stories interest you.

Overall, "Zodiac" is a movie that should not be missed.

"Zodiac" is rated R for some strong killings, language, drug material and brief sexual images. The film runs 157 minutes and is available to purchase or rent.