Monday, April 02, 2007


Why has it taken me over a week to write about "Zodiac?" I suppose I could claim a synergistic connection to the plot, in which it takes many years for a group of detectives (official and amateur) to attempt to identify the serial killer who called himself Zodiac. (It also took 2 hours and forty minutes for this to unravel on screen; a much longer experience than I'd expected or been prepared for. I have to look at movie times before committing to them.)

I think it's taken me so long because I don't know how to interpret my feelings about the movie. It was interesting, but I wasn't as enthralled as most of the reviewers seem to have been. I liked the 70's air, the moodiness of the film, and the way it made a relatively tame procedure (handwriting analysis, code-breaking) suspenseful. There's not too much Chloe Sevigny (always a danger; she's too often up on her high horse, as if judging the rest of the film around her and deeming it unworthy), and a bit too much Jake Gyllenhaal. (As dictated by the path the actual investigations took, Mark Ruffalo's police detective is basically finished when Gyllenhaal's newspaper cartoonist begins his own obsessive search.) Robert Downey Jr., fey and drunk? Check. (Seriously, was it an acting choice to come across as the gay white version of Huggy Bear?)

One of the more fascinating aspects of the film is to envision how contemporary technology and processes would have had an impact on the investigation. A running theme of the film is that several of the murders happened in different counties, and so were in different jurisdictions. While the local investigators make attempts to connect, it's half-hearted and hampered by the difficulty in sharing information, even when they want to - for example, when one detective offers to "telefax" something to another, only to be told the other sheriff's station doesn't have a telefax machine. We're led to believe that clues picked up during interviews in one case would have identified the suspect earlier, if noticed by the detectives in another. Jake Gyllenhaal's character spends more time unraveling the separate investigations than he does the actual murder.

Which, I think, is what slows down the film for me. We've already spent an hour or so seeing those investigations take place, so spending another hour while the cartoonist explores them felt like backtracking. And yet, isn't this kind of criminal investigation often nothing more than backtracking? I'm sure that's the case, and to be fair, the film takes what is likely incredibly boring and repetitive and spins it into something fairly interesting to watch, but I think there is a fine line between realistically portraying tedium and having it come across as tedious. Most reviewers think the director David Fincher stayed firmly on the former side, while I think at 2 hours and 40 minutes, a toe crossed the line a few times.

This weekend I saw a German film, "Summer in Berlin," but I don't have time to comment on it now.


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