Monday, March 05, 2007

My Take - Zodiac

A Movie Mini-Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

I guess I shouldn’t point out that I am old enough to remember the Zodiac scare of the 1960s. I recall the apprehension in my West Oakland neighborhood over trick-or-treating one October, and then another scare after a bit of time had passed. The new film by director David Fincher (Fight Club - 1999) brings back some of the eeriness that I associate with those times.

Zodiac (2007) stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain - 2005) as San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist, Robert Graysmith, obsessive amateur sleuth and author of the books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked upon which the film is based. The screenplay is written by Shane Salerno (Shaft - 2000).

Within minutes of the film’s opening, Zodiac attacks a young couple. His weapon of choice: a .9 mm Luger. Shortly thereafter, cryptic letters are received by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Vallejo Times, and the San Francisco Examiner, claiming responsibility for these 1969 Vallejo murders and a murder several months earlier in Southern California. Thus begins a reign of terror that persists on and off well into the 1970s.

Although there is no shortage of creepy potential suspects in the film (just as in real life), the true Zodiac killer is never identified and brought to justice. It is not for lack of trying by Graysmith, who performs a never ending investigation into the crimes, constantly trolling libraries for sources used by the Zodiac, and seeking interviews with potential witnesses.

As part of the backdrop of this semi-historical film, there is a ton of 1960s memorabilia, i.e., vintage Coca-Cola machines, dial telephones, and a pre-Playstation Atari game system. The film features time-lapsed photography of the erection of the TransAmerica Pyramid, which was finally completed in 1972. Talk about bringing back memories!

Despite the dedicated investigation on all fronts, the fly in the ointment of the original probe seemed to be the lack of cooperation between the various jurisdictions where the Zodiac did his work. So many lawmen and jurisdictions are represented in this film that it is difficult to keep them straight. Inspector David Toschi is Mark Ruffalo (All the King’s Men - 2006); Inspector William Armstrong is Anthony Edwards (E.R.); and Ken Narlow is Donal Logue (also of E.R.). Famed attorney Melvin Belli is depicted by Brian Cox (Deadwood). Robert Downey Jr. (Good Night and Good Luck - 2005) produces an excellent portrayal of the gifted alcoholic Chronicle reporter, Paul Avery. Graysmith’s intelligent but understated wife Melanie is played by Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry - 1999).

Zodiac runs a little long, but seen mostly through the eyes of cartoonist Graysmith, it remains fascinating throughout. The challenge is to follow the clues and try to figure out for yourself (with the limited information provided) the identity of the real Zodiac. One thing is for certain—you will leave the theater still wondering…. [RT 2:38]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 03/05/2007]



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