Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: James Vanderbilt
Runtime: 158 mns
Release: Out now
Ever had a heavy breather call and hang up on you? Look out, it could be the Zodiac. Yes, arguably the most unsettling serial killer America has ever produced was never caught, and just when everyone has forgotten about him, he has returned, in David Fincher’s spine-tingling police-procedural suspense thriller Zodiac.
Based on the book of the same name and actual case files from the San Francisco Police Department, Zodiac traces the genesis of a serial killer superstar from his first encrypted letter to the San Francisco Examiner through the maze of killings, phone calls, false leads, and bureaucracy. Jake Gyllenhall stars as Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist for the Examiner who went on to “write the book” on Zodiac, with Robert Downey Jr. as crime-beat reporter Paul Avery and Mark Ruffalo as Inspector Dave Toschi. The cast is filled out with Anthony Edwards as Toschi’s partner, Chloe Sevigny Elias Koteas and Brian Cox.
Zodiac is as tight a thriller as it gets, and is all the worse for being true. The cast, the heart-in-your-throat pacing, and the creepily inconclusive ending all add up for one of the best crime films ever made. Fincher, topping his record for serial killers from Seven and blasting his adeptness for tension from Panic Room, nails the feel of the late sixties and seventies and hammers us with the terror Zodiac wrought on the residents of northern California during his murderous reign. Ruffalo is excellent, as always, as the hard-working, frustrated lead detective Toschi, and Gyllenhall lends his soppy earnestness to good result as the unlikely sub-hero of the story. Downey Jr. replays his wild track to rehab as the drunk and drugged case-breaker Avery while never missing a beat in his clever patter. Zodiac takes every dip, turn, disappointment and lead that the original case took while never letting up on pacing or succumbing to slasher-pops-out-of-the closet clichés. I held my breath so often and clenched up on my seat so firmly that when I left the theatre you could bounce quarters off my bottom. Zodiac is taunting, terrifying, terrific cinema.