When the history books remember the best films of 2007, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men will be at the forefront by virtue of their victories at the Oscars. Quite how Zodiac missed out — not even scoring a single nomination — remains a miscarriage of cinematic justice akin to Ordinary People beating Taxi Driver to Best Picture. At the very least, Zodiac should have won for special effects (witness the supplementary featurette for an insight into the seamless digital work involved throughout, from adding blood to creating entire city blocks), although this extraordinary film deserved much more.
A triumph from David Fincher, who reined in his usual stylistic flourishes to present a simple, disciplined, study of the serial killer who terrorised the San Francisco Bay area during the late 60s and 70s but was never caught, Zodiac is a densely detailed police procedural, a meticulous, near obsessive examination of the murders and the subsequent investigation by San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) and homicide detective David Toschi (Ruffalo) that includes virtually every frustration, misstep and dead end, but which goes so far as to identify a prime suspect whose guilt is debated on the accompanying ‘His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen’ documentary. It’s a movie about obsession, too, and its consequences: particularly for Graysmith, whose two books about the Zodiac form the basis for the script, but also Fincher. Raised in Marin County, just across the bay from San Francisco, Zodiac was the bogeyman of his youth, and he spent three years checking every piece of evidence, tracking down every living person involved in the case to figure out “the closest thing to the truth” before shooting began.
This Director’s Cut is four minutes longer than the theatrical, with just a handful of new scenes, among them an audacious sequence where the screen goes black for a full minute and we hear a music montage that marks the passage of four years. Fincher shot Zodiac on HiDef, and the result, at the cinema, was astounding. Disappointingly on DVD, the picture appears a shade muddy and soft. Blu-Ray, clearly, is the way to go. Nevertheless, the film’s forensic attention to detail carries over to the extras which are both bountiful and a boon. Fincher’s typically measured and erudite commentary is again essential for anyone interested in the art of filmmaking; while the second, spliced together from separate chats with Gyllenhaal and Downey, and another with screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer, and novelist and “fan” James Elroy, makes for hugely entertaining listening.
The impressive behind-the-scenes documentary ‘Zodiac Deciphered’ reveals Fincher’s Kubrick-like quest for perfection, whether shooting 36 takes of Gyllenhaal tossing a notebook onto a car seat, helicoptering in trees to recreate a murder site exactly, or insisting on changing one line of thread in an executioner’s mask. Even better is the stellar feature-length ‘This Is The Zodiac Speaking’, a disquieting chronicle of the murders featuring crime scene photos, vintage news footage and interviews with many of those involved in the case, as well as surviving victims, Bryan Hartwell and Michael Mageau, all of whose lives seem forever altered. Sadly, there’s no contribution from Toschi or his SFPD partner Bill Armstrong. That minor quibble aside, this is a monumental package for what Elroy terms “a luminous work of art”.
Extras: Commentary by director David Fincher; Commentary by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and novelist James Elroy; ‘Zodiac Deciphered’ documentary; ‘The Visual Effects Of Zodiac’ featurette; ‘Previsualisation’ featurette; ‘This Is The Zodiac Speaking’ documentary; ‘Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen’ documentary
* originally published in DVD & Blu-ray Review.