Jake Gyllenhaal plays obsessed social retard; yawns ensue

In the second half of my double feature at the local cinema, I took in Zodiac.  The latest film from acclaimed directory David Fincher, Zodiac is based around the investigation of the “Zodiac killer” in the 1960s-70s.  I hate to play the role of spoiler, but I need to preface this review by saying– the Zodiac killer was never actually caught.  He killed some people, copycats showed up, and then he just kinda stopped.  Not very exciting, eh?

Granted, I took this film in after the immensely entertaining Black Snake Moan, which I preceded with a few beers, and before that worked a full 8 hour day.   Perhaps it wasn’t the best time to watch a nearly 3 hour long procedural crime drama with no real payoff.  Anyways, for those not in the know, the Zodiac killer would commit murders, and then submit letters with ciphers to decode to newspapers.  That’s pretty much all we know about him.  To this day.

Although the film is really more of a character study than anything, the first half of the film, which amounts to a murder mystery, is actually pretty engaging.  That might also have something to do with the fact that Robert Downey Jr.’s character is prominently featured during this portion of the film.  He lights up the screen everytime he’s on it, portraying a cocky, self-destructive (I know, what a stretch, huh?) reporter.  Gyllenhaal also holds his own during this portion of the film, where his character is relegated to being a lovable social retard cartoonist with an unhealthy interest in the Zodiac.  He really seems to lose any charm he initially had as the film goes on and the whole story becomes fixated on his growing obsession with finding the Zodiac killer.

The film does indeed feel very bloated, and I caught myself occasionally spacing out.  Once the formal investigation into the killings ends, that’s where the film seems to lose its way.  The focus on Gyllenhaal’s fixation never really grabbed me. The final third of the film is really lacking in suspense as the story dissolves into a repetitive melange of Gyllenhaal’s character acquiring names, visiting places, and then acquiring more names.  It becomes tiring when one knows that no payoff is coming. 

Despite all of its faults, it must be said that Zodiac is a very nice-looking film.  Fincher’s directing style paints the 1960s California setting witha dark and gritty look that will be instantly familiar to fans of his previous films.  Although I found the film to be overly long and rudderless in the last half, I can easily see fans of Fincher’s work and procedural crime dramas really enjoying Zodiac.  Just don’t expect a denouement in return for 2 hours and 40 minutes of your life.

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~ by theoberlander on March 7, 2007.

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