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Christian

Zodiac

74 posts in this topic

Let's talk about it.

I'm seeing it tonight. I hear it's 2 hours and 40 minutes. At that length, it better be as good as some people are saying it is.

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Have fun. It's great. Complicated, creepy, and very well acted. And it's a whole new style for Fincher, impressively restrained, understated, and old-fashioned.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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I knew next to nothing about the true story of the Zodiac killer and had no idea how this story would come out. So the ending surprised me. If the movie doesn

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I don't think your observations are "faults" of the film. The film is about Zodiac. It is about his assault on society, the media, law enforcement, families, and humankind. The investigators (of all kinds) come and go, and at times I think the film draws us almost too far into Graysmith's story and makes it begin to feel like a story about him. But it isn't. It's about the Zodiac, and just how slippery evil can be. (In a sense, we need to go a fair distance into Graysmith's story to see how evil hits families, not just organizations and institutions, but still... the more the film takes us into Graysmith's story, the more it threatens to become a conventional thriller.)

(Toeing the line of spoilers ahead, at least in a general sense.)

Ultimately, it's about the problem of evil. Reason will not pin it down and cannot eliminate it. Information falls short. (Sam Phillips sings about this all the time.) We cannot solve the problem of evil. The film is such a perfect analogy for the current political and societal climate. We still haven't caught Bin Laden. And the more information we gather, the harder we apply our machines and our reason to the task, the bigger the problem seems to get, the fear sinks its claws into our culture, and somewhere there's a villain who started the fire but has moved on to God knows what.... Where is God? No one looks up. But then again, the camera frequently gives us a God's eye view... looking down at frantic people trying to solve a problem they cannot solve. But, well, there's the heart of my interpretation of the film, and I need to put that in an official Review.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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I like your interpretation, Jeffrey. I see the film a little more narrowly, but suspect my interpretation is a little bit off. Still, "Zodiac" makes an interesting case of a strange

"family movie"

, doesn't it? I mean, that's its subject. That's what it's about. You already mentioned it, as have other reviews I've seen, although I see it as central, whereas you and others see it as one piece of a much larger whole.

I'm still thinking about that.

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Great analysis Jeffrey. I add that what is evil can be a matter of perspective. To some, bin Laden is a Robin Hood, who also hid out and evaded authorities -- from Nottingham to Tora Bora.

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Loved it. Quite probably the first great movie of the year.

FWIW, I am not so sure that the film is "about" evil, or "about" the Zodiac Killer. On a deeper level, it may be about people trying to find order and "patterns" in the universe, and trying to make things fit the patterns that they see. (I am reminded of a line Michelle Pfeiffer has in The Story of Us about how people do crossword puzzles because it gives them the sense that there is at least one tiny part of the universe that makes sense. Puzzle-solving is a HUGE part of this movie.)

The Zodiac Killer may not represent "evil" so much as he represents "chaos" or "nihilism". We assume the world is orderly, makes sense, has a pattern, a purpose, etc., and serial murderers like the Zodiac Killer shatter this illusion -- so other people feel compelled to track these murderers down because that is how they can be made to fit once again into a larger narrative that "makes sense". (One of the key moments in this film is when the Zodiac Killer kills someone precisely as a way of BREAKING the pattern that he seems to have set with the previous murders.)

Heck, aren't "zodiacs" themselves attempts to see pattern and purpose in the random activity of the stars?

I love the pop-culture references, incidentally, and the way the film alludes to the fact that Hollywood heroes like Bullitt and Dirty Harry were inspired by the real-life cop played by Ruffalo (and how perfect, that an actor like Ruffalo -- no matinee idol, not like Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood -- should play the "real-life cop" who inspired those other, more iconic figures).

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From the USA Today review:

He even enlists his young sons in his obsession, contributing to the failure of his second marriage (to Chloe Sevigny).

Does the film spell out the dissolution of Graysmith's marriage? I mentioned the final wording in the film about Graysmith's relationship with his children, but I added a parenthetical that "his wife is not mentioned." Was she? Was the status of his marriage made clear at the end of the film?

Edited by Christian

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Wow, I hate to admit that I didn't pick up on this, but goshdarnit, I didn't. From Salon's review:

Early on, we learn that Graysmith, a divorced single dad, has two young kids, but we see only one. (Later, when he's found a new girlfriend, Melanie -- played by Chlo

Edited by Christian

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..."the incoming mail cam."...
Hi Jeff... the way you wrote this, it's almost as if this device hasn't been done ever before.

And yet, I was instantly reminded of the "Fed Ex" CAM in Castaway. Is this any different?

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Nick, I haven't seen Castaway in a long time, so I don't remember that shot. But it's entirely possible.

Christian, I do remember that the first time we see Graysmith it's talking to his son. And he hasn't met Sevigny's character yet. So I was tracking with the fact that he had children with two different women, but I guess I didn't think about the fact that the boy seems to disappear for a long time in the film.

I do like the scene where the boys are helping him with the clues.

And I couldn't help but wonder if the heavy breathing on his telephone was suddenly going to morph into the voice of Heath Ledger: "I don't know how to quit you!" :blink:

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Is there a mailcam of sorts in The Hudsucker Proxy? I'm remember something shooting through a glass tube, and coming out, I think, in the mailroom where Tim Robbins worked.

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Just for the record, I did notice the "phantom second kid".

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: And I couldn't help but wonder if the heavy breathing on his telephone was suddenly going to

: morph into the voice of Heath Ledger: "I don't know how to quit you!" :blink:

I did find myself beginning to wonder at one point if EVERY Jake Gyllenhaal movie is going to begin in the 1960s and end in the 1980s ... but then this one ended in the 1990s instead.

- - -

"Zodiac" Brings My Career Full Circle

It's been 40 long years since I began my journalism career and I received a sharp reminder of that last week while watching David Fincher's new suspense film "Zodiac." Somewhere in the middle of this very long (2 hours and 35 minutes) "true crime" story, a San Francisco reporter named Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) follows a tip in a serial killer case to Riverside, California, where he picks up on the first major story I covered.

Jack Mathews, New York Daily News, March 1

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For me, the best part of the movie was listening to David Shire reprise his score to All the President's Men. (Wouldn't it have been great if Hal Holbrook suddenly showed up as an anonymous tipster?)

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Nathaniel,

I can't tell from your post if you were bothered by the nods to All the President's Men, or if you actually liked them.... What did you think of the film?

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I can't tell from your post if you were bothered by the nods to All the President's Men, or if you actually liked them.... What did you think of the film?

Oh, I liked it! Pakula's film is one of my all-time favorites, and Fincher was able to replicate that eerie '70s vibe beautifully. All the President's Men is remarkable not just for its consolidation of information, but for its ability to make that information seem exciting to the viewer. Similarly, Zodiac, with its endless phone calls and interviews, might have easily lapsed into monotony, but Fincher pumps it so full of atmosphere and paranoia that boredom is kept at bay. He also allows us to share Graysmith's excitement as he conducts his investigation, so that in essence we're solving the mystery alongside him. That's hard to do!

Partial credit must go to Shire's spooky score and Harry Savides's Gordon Willis-y lighting. Fincher must have had them study All the President's Men (and maybe The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor) before working on this film. (Shire's homework, of course, was already done.)

Edited by Nathaniel

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A brilliant, brilliant take on the film by Larry Gross:

Zodiac
is an important postmodern work. It's an authentically "new" and even experimental thing attempting, to quote from Susan Sontag's essay Against Interpretation, to put content in its place. It's very very much a film constructed on a 21st century conception of information as a non-substantive, purely relational digital phenomenon, and the fact that it was shot on video and exists immaterially as digital information is thus not a merely decorative issue but crucial to its meaning. . . .

The most important disturbing, disconcerting aspect of the film is that, despite competent dialogue, and an excellent cast, it is not character centered, but structure and theme centred...the major theme is representation itself.

How do you represent representation? Fincher does it by telling the story of someone who resists representation, someone who is unknowable, someone about whom there is only a history of not-knowing. . . .

What is fascinating and so perplexingly compelling about the last three or four scenes in the film is that cognitively we are given a solution, but it is now empty of affect, reversing and upending all conventional narrative results. The Graysmith character, a cartoonist, works through with the cop played by Ruffalo, a kind of schematic of all the events we have seen over and over, handled, mishandled, misinterpreted,, knowledge has become pure form, stretched out precariously as an abstract "story" across the abyss of the lives that have been swallowed up in the failure to become its content. The haunting final scene exquisitely utilizing characters we barely know and can identify, "completes" the abstract search for truth. An i.d. is judged eight on a scale of ten, ten being positive. It and the subsequent crawl gives us everything and nothing. . . .

Some other great thoughts there, too. Check it out.

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So, I caught this Saturday night. I'm a waining FOF (Fan of Fincher - the director of Fight Club, Se7en, The Game, Panic Room). I say waining for two reasons. 1. I'm getting smarter 2. His films are getting dumber. That may be an oversimplification, but it is true that I feel my tastes are maturing and I feel his films (certainly his last two) have been seriously flawed.

Fincher was an important part of the Tarantino-edgy-dark-crime-mess-with-the-narrative genre of the 90's. He was considered a peer with Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects), Christopher Nolan (memento) and, of course, Tarantino.

Fincher's early films were hard to watch, but powerful and he was known as a magician with his lighting. (A common trait among those who got their start in music videos.)

Lately, however, that genre of film has done some growing up, and most of the directors have as well. Tarantino has become the savior of vulgar trash-pop, making art out of camp, and Singer has made some of the best superhero movies ever (and Superman Returns). Nolan's continued to make good films, perhaps a bit too commercial. I thought Fincher had vanished from the list. It's been five years since Panic Room fizzled both in its third act and with critics.

I had hoped Zodiac would show me he was more than just a three-film fluke. It didn't. In truth, this film had the potential to be quite good, but it desperately needed a more cohesive vision of which story it was going to tell and even more desperately needed an editor.

The cast was amazing, which tells me that I wasn't the only one excited to see Fincher directing again. Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo are some of my current favorites and, in truth, they did the best they could under the circumstances. Downey was especially interesting, but his character just drifted into the background.

The film felt like a 20/20 Mystery on TV, that makes you stay up one hour longer than you planned, and then ends with an unsolved mystery that is extremely unsatisfying. It makes you want those 50 minutes of your life back. However, Zodiac takes 2 1/2 hours to not satisfy its audience. There were several characters who seemed important early in the film, but drfited into the background, and there were tension-filled moments which ended up meaning nothing by the end of the film.

The film's main character becomes obsessed with the case and loses his bearings on his own life. And one can't wonder if the same thing happened with the filmmakers. Did the writer and director get so caught up in the details of the case that they lost sight of the narrative line? Perhaps. It brings to mind JFK. A film with a star-studded cast and a great director, but a storyline that's too much for them to handle. It's like Simon Cowell always tells the 15 year old girls who try to sing Aretha Franklin, "That song swallowed you up." This film swallowed up Fincher.

I'll give Fincher one last try. He's tackling an F. Scott Fitzgerald story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with the help of Eric Roth (The Insider, The Good Shepherd) and with an amazing cast. If he messes that up, he's done.

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I see what you're getting at Jeff. And man, that would've been a great movie. But it wasn't this one, as far as I could tell.

This felt like undisicplined meandering to me, not like purposeful portrayal of elusive truth.

The phantom son, which I noticed, the moment with that guy in the basement which was creepy for apparently no reason, Graysmith's obsession for the case with no real grounding -- all seemed like missteps. Underdeveloped characters and a sea of names that you needed a rolodex to keep up seemed the by-product of a director and editor who lost the forrest for the trees.

In fact, as much as you say the film is about Zodiac, it has much more to do with the obsession with Zodiac, and in Graysmith it felt meaningless. It felt like The Good Shepherd in that regard. The film tries to dissect a man with a obsession that overtakes his commitment to family and even his own well-being, and yet, the dissection never makes many deep cuts into the character. And we're left as clueless about Graysmith as he is about Zodiac.

Oh and PTC - I will say that the puzzle-solving nicely aligns with Fincher's body of work. And I think you've hit the heart of the film.

Although you were happier with it than me. :)

I couldn't help but be bothered by the "animal crackers" thing. It seemed a cheap, boilerplate quirk to help us remember or care about Ruffalo's character. It felt like Morgan Freeman's character's metronome thing in Se7en.

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The film felt like a 20/20 Mystery on TV, that makes you stay up one hour longer than you planned, and then ends with an unsolved mystery that is extremely unsatisfying.

Did you know going into the film that no one has been formally charged with the murders?

It makes you want those 50 minutes of your life back. However, Zodiac takes 2 1/2 hours to not satisfy its audience. There were several characters who seemed important early in the film, but drfited into the background, and there were tension-filled moments which ended up meaning nothing by the end of the film.

I wouldn't say that they meant nothing... but perhaps you expected the film to be about the Zodiac killer instead of the obsession surrounding the investigation? That's understandable, but I think it puts you at a disadvantage when viewing the film.

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This felt like undisicplined meandering to me, not like purposeful portrayal of elusive truth.

That's interesting... To me the film felt very structured and disciplined. Fincher restrained his visual impulse to make sure that he told the story clearly and carefully. Only occasionally did he show off his craft (such as, the very carefully framing of the overhead shot of the taxi or the simulated construction of the Transamerica Pyramid to demonstrated the passing of time).

...the moment with that guy in the basement which was creepy for apparently no reason, Graysmith's obsession for the case with no real grounding -- all seemed like missteps.
He was creepy because he was a strange guy who just might have been the killer. There was an enormous amount of uncertainty... part of the theme of the film. And regarding the obsession, I think we've all known people like that or have been that kind of person at some point in our lives.

In fact, as much as you say the film is about Zodiac, it has much more to do with the obsession with Zodiac, and in Graysmith it felt meaningless.

I agree, except for the part regarding Graysmith's obsession seeming meaningless. As a cartoonist, Graysmith was used to working and thinking in a visual medium, and Zodiacs theatrics (executioner's hood and tunic, coded letters and taunting of his pursuers) could easily capture the imagination of someone like that. I know if I had been in a similar situation, I would also be obsessed. (I've been very interested in this case for over 20 years and remember some of the national news reporting of it from my early childhood.)

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As a cartoonist, Graysmith was used to working and thinking in a visual medium, and Zodiacs theatrics (executioner's hood and tunic, coded letters and taunting of his pursuers) could easily capture the imagination of someone like that. I know if I had been in a similar situation, I would also be obsessed. (I've been very interested in this case for over 20 years and remember some of the national news reporting of it from my early childhood.)

A morbid fascination is one thing, but this obsession, to the detriment of his own family requires a closer look. But it's one of many things in the film that deserved to be a film all by itself, instead of four incomplete films strung together.

Edited by DanBuck

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DanBuck wrote:

: The film's main character becomes obsessed with the case and loses his bearings on his own life. And one

: can't wonder if the same thing happened with the filmmakers. Did the writer and director get so caught up in

: the details of the case that they lost sight of the narrative line?

I would not say they lost sight of the narrative story line -- they were just telling a different story than you expected. But there IS a definite parallel between Fincher's obsessiveness (he reportedly did up to 70, 80, 90 takes of some shots) and that of his characters. And I think it is VERY significant that the opening titles tell us the film is based on "case files", rather than the usual "based on a true story".

: In fact, as much as you say the film is about Zodiac, it has much more to do with the obsession with Zodiac . . .

Exactly! And that's what makes this movie so great. (I haven't read Jeff's review yet, so I don't know what particular argument or set of arguments you are replying to here.)

: Oh and PTC - I will say that the puzzle-solving nicely aligns with Fincher's body of work. And I think you've hit

: the heart of the film.

: Although you were happier with it than me. :)

Heh. The other day, David Poland (who doesn't like the film) linked to a positive review of the film that listed all the same basic points that he did -- except what he considered pluses were minuses in the other critic's eyes.

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Saw the film on Saturday night and just thought I'd throw in my two cents. As a big fan of Seven and Fight Club, I have to say this film renewed my appreciation for Fincher. This film will likely draw consideration for one of the best films of the year come the end.

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