David Fincher has become a name that makes people sit up and take notice. His body of work is small, but I think we can look at it as quality over quantity. Terrence Malick is another director who has a small body of work, but every time he makes a film he knocks the ball right out of the park. The same goes for David Fincher, he has not made a bad film yet in his career and yes I am counting Alien 3. With films like Se7en, The Game, Fight Club and Panic Room I think it is safe to say that the man can direct and can tell a gripping and thrilling tale. He is one of my favorite directors and in some ways is a modern day Hitchcock.
The film itself chronicles a period of time during the 1960's and the 1970's. I think what will surprise most people going into this movie is that this is not your typical serial killer movie. So, if you're expecting another Se7en then you're going into the movie with the wrong state of mind. I am incredibly happy that Fincher went with a different side to the genre and didn't repeat himself. We open the movie with the first murder that sparked the chaos. The rest of the film shows how obsession consumes the characters and the lives of everyone involved. James Vanderbilt constructed the screenplay so that there is really no main character here. The story shifts focus amongst the different characters, and that's why the film needs to be as long as it is. Even though the focus shifts around a lot we never lose focus on any of the characters, every single one is thoroughly developed. The screenplay is incredibly captivating despite throwing so much information at the audience. We are with this story until the very end and are in no way being dragged by the arm. Also just as important is the ending. How do you end a film where the outcome is publically known? I won't say, but our characters complete their journey and that's the most important part and it does serve closure. You will not be disappointed with an open ending.
Let's move to the technical aspects of the film. The number one reason I get excited about a Fincher film is the cinematography, and boy oh boy does Zodiac have perfect cinematography. David Fincher decided to use the Thompson Viper FilmStream Camera to shoot the entire film on uncompressed digital. This is the first time Fincher has shot digital, and the first time a Hollywood film has used the Viper camera to film in uncompressed digital. It makes perfect sense for Fincher to use this method since his films are almost always shot at night for the most part, and with digital you need less light to film. With that being said the picture is very soft and the atmosphere is indescribable in words. Lighting is perfect in every scene, it seems as if each light in the frame is glowing, there are no harsh shadows. The color palette is very muted and the film captures the time period perfectly especially within the art direction and costume design. Harris Savides was the Director of Photography on the film. He worked as an assistant photographer on Se7en so I'm sure he had a good sense of what Fincher was going for, and it certainly shows that he did. The look of the film has Fincher's name all over it. Some scenes will remind you of Panic Room while others will remind you of Fight Club, and as a whole the film has the feel of Se7en and The Game. The pacing is absolutely perfect and there will be some scenes that will have you curl up in anticipation and tension.
Another aspect of the film worth mentioning was the score composed by veteran composer David Shire. I was almost devastated when I found out that Howard Shore wouldn't be scoring Zodiac. Fincher's collaboration with him on Se7en, The Game and Panic Room was remarkable and Shore composed some of his most memorable scores with Fincher. However I can see why Shore could have been a misfit with this movie, and I think David Shire did an excellent job. David Fincher wanted to do a more character driven film in the vein of All The President's Men. I don't think it's a coincidence that David Shire also composed the score to All The President's Men. Zodiac isn't structured like most films and the movie has almost no score anyway. You do have to acknowledge the music supervisors' selection of period songs to create the right mood and tone. I really didn't even notice the score until the third act of the film. Even though I love my movies with strong scores I never felt there was a need for it, and that credit has to go to Fincher's magnificent capability to thrill us through the filmmaking itself. Zodiac is as detailed as it gets and it's brilliant.
The cast is remarkable. Jake Gyllenhaal gives his best performance in my opinion. He comes across as a very thorough person who always likes to understand everything, and then the Zodiac case itself consumes him. Robert Downey Jr. is equally brilliant as Paul Avery, the reporter who becomes obsessed with the case and goes down a path of self destruction. Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards play two inspectors who are partners. Edward's character quits before it grabs a hold of him while Ruffalo's character continues down the path. The performances are absolutely amazing, this is truly one of the best efforts I have seen from a cast as a whole in awhile.
The film is atmospheric and will envelope you from beginning to end. Your heart rate will rise during some scenes and you will be tense with anxiety and anticipation. The characters will captivate you and you will become as obsessed with the case as the characters are. David Fincher turned out a very mature, intricate and entertaining film. It's a bit of a thriller, a bit of a drama, and a bit of a study of obsession. This is a fantastic movie.