Sunday, March 4, 2007

Zodiac

dir. David Fincher

San Francisco Vice

Jeff GP, NEW YORK CITY
March 1, 2007 - 35mm/Regal E-Walk

The lights are on, but it is dark, because it is nighttime. Dark and muddy, and somehow, if you adjust your eyes to the dark, there is an incredibly detailed figure looming somewhere back there. You can see him! Most of the time Jake Gyllenhaal (portraying Robert Graysmith) is the one in the darkness, hunched over a book or a file in the middle of the night. We can see him, in the dark! It actually looks dark, but there he is! Harris Savides, the cinematographer of Zodiac, and possibly the best in the business, displays as much prowess with digital video here as he has with every ounce of film he’s shot in the past. His clear technical prowess with the actual celluloid stuff, in this case, translates to a near perfect use of digital video. Director David Fincher and Savides play video to its strengths, shooting in blackness appropriating a happy medium in reproducing actual human night vision, something film has struggled to do (though Savides did it very well in Gus Van Sant’s Last Days). Just after last years mega-million dollar art project, Miami Vice, Zodiac sits as one of the most beautiful and digitally shot pictures ever made.

Fincher forgoes the insane virtuosity he has shown in the past with his popular pictures Se7en and Fight Club, instead opting to make a rare character and word-driven piece of filmmaking that is able to balance its relentlessly paced flood of facts with the feeling of an exacting thriller. The most common comparison with this technique of deluge of fact is likely to be the flashy-as-all-hell and great, great, great, great movie, JFK. I would also like to pat Zodiac on the back and lump it in with another paranoid talking men movie, The Insider.

Like both of these comparative pictures, Zodiac is bogged down with the annoying, but essential scenes of wives complaining about their husband’s obsession and leaving them, with the kids in tow. In Zodiac, the responsibility to play out these difficult scenes is plopped into Chloe Sevigny’s very capable hands. She does what she can with those stock scenes, and they would be the most tired scenes in the picture if it weren’t for Ms. Sevigny’s introductory scene. In this scene she meets an already obsessive Graysmith and practically forces her love upon him by simply hanging around, and not giving up. It’s saddening and lonely, but also very romantic. Other attempts to “humanize” some of the obsessive men are not so effective, particularly Mark Ruffalo’s Inspector Toschi’s cutesy addiction to animal crackers. If that bit was cut out completely from the script we would all be better off.

Now, what Zodiac is about exactly is a decade-spanning investigation of a true-life notorious murderer, not a serial killer, as we learn there is nothing in particular linking his victims. This dead end case becomes a media phenomenon, and the San Francisco Chronicle is the newspaper wrapped around this big fish. For a while, we spend a great share of time with Robert Downey Jr., as the hard-drinking Chronicle writer Paul Avery. Downey Jr. is stellar as usual. There’s also the aforementioned Mark Ruffalo as the lead Inspector on the San Francisco end of the case, with his partner, well played by Anthony Edwards. Gyllenhaal, the Chronicle cartoonist, carries the bulk of the story, and the movie is based on his character’s book (Robert Graysmith). Zodiac is brimming with strong, exhausted performances from all of its actors, and the casting is impeccable the long way down through the smallest bits of the movie. Fincher enlists pitifully underused actors like Dermot Mulroney, Ione Skye and Clea Duvall who are given their due and master their scenes. Duvall is specifically grand as a bruised up prison inmate.

Beaten down with frustration, every character has bags under their eyes, particularly the obsessive trio of Ruffalo, Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr. They’re exhaustion, filtered through Fincher's time jumping narrative, translates as riveting and the “long” duration of the picture breezes by, ending abruptly. Their performances do take a back seat to the sumptuous photography and rich tabloid essence of the story, which is regrettable because so many of them are on the money. The images simply overwhelm and will live on and on. David Fincher pulled out marvelous, marvelous performances and told a whammy of a fun tale, but Harris Savides is the great big muddy star of Zodiac.

3 comments:

joey said...

I know who the zodiac is: John Popper of Blues traveler!

http://www.stereogum.com/archives/004790.html#comments

jeff said...

I used to love Blues Traveler. Just Sayin'

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