Thursday, 18 February 2010

No.9 : The Zodiac

Wait, wait , wait comes the cry - that David Fincher film staring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. was called ‘Zodiac’ not ‘The Zodiac’ what a con - I want my money back.

Well, dear reader, you are bang wrong. This 2005 movie is indeed ‘The Zodiac’ and stars the library detective out of ‘Seinfeld’ and one of the lesser Culkin children. Yes the cast list is that starry and it does have a TV movie sensibility but let’s have a look and see if it competes with its behemoth brother.

Both films follow the case of ‘The Zodiac’, a serial killer who plagued San Francisco in the late 1960’s and was never caught. His elusiveness creates a problem for the film makers as there is no resolution to the tale. This to me leaves the whole thing a bit unsatisfying and I did feel slightly cheated after three hours of the Fincher version to be basically told ‘that’s all folks’.

Obviously they can’t make up an ending or pin it on some dead guy but if there isn’t an ending you have to wonder if it’s a good subject for a film in the first place. Both films go for the same approach and that is to follow the detective angle. This is fair enough because all the killers actions and motivations can only be speculated on whereas the investigation is a matter of public record.

In the Fincher film they follow amateur cartoonist sleuth Jake Gyllenhaal whose character, although based on a real person, isn’t touched on in ‘The Zodiac’. This film follows the investigations of Inspector Matt Parish who is charged with solving the case by his library detective boss who presumably had some fine to collect. He follows a few angles and soon gets so obsessed that he undoes his collar and forgets to shave.

We also see the impact the case has on his family with his creepy son seemingly allowed free access to the evidence locker to trawl through the grizzly snaps on his own. There is also an ambitious reporter whom I think is meant to come across as sleazy but in fact seems to be doing a bang up job of keeping the public informed.

The killings themselves are seen from the Zodiac’s P.O.V. and are clumsily handled. The fear and terror he would have carried are totally missing and the murders seem like a Crimewatch re-enactment rather than a slaying in progress. As the years pass the film shows stock footage of the moon landings and race riots as the murders rack up. The Inspector pins all his hopes on one suspect and when that fizzles out it’s hard not to feel that you’ve wasted your time.

The lead actor Justin Chambers, whom I’d never heard of but is seemingly a big noise in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, is very poor especially in the scenes where his obsession threatens to derail his marriage. When we are meant to think he’s going overboard he just comes across like a boozy jerk.

The case is an interesting one and the unanswered questions and unsolved picto-grams make for interesting reading but for a film it just doesn’t work for me - in either version. In it’s favour ‘The Zodiac’ is only 90 minutes and they cover more or less the same plot points as the bloated big budget effort. It is let down by its cheap production however with 1960’s San Francisco never less convincingly evoked - I especially liked the establishing shot of the university sign with a big bit of tape stretched across the area where its web address presumably was.

As a TV movie it may spark some interest that’ll lead you to looking up the details of an interesting case but as an entertainment I’d give the whole Zodiac movie franchise a wide berth. Which is best? Probably ‘The Zodiac’ but only because we’re biased and it’s half the length of its rival.

THE Tag Line : Whodunit? Dunno 56%

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