Thursday, 31 January 2008

written in blood

Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy

What a pleasure to read an author you didn't think you'd be that keen on and to discover that they're quite brilliant. After devouring The Road recently next on the list was his 'masterpiece' Blood Meridian. I have an irrational hatred of Westerns as a genre so I was tentative to say the least but whilst this is a very different book in many ways it is still suffused with the apocolyptic vision, the extreme violence of man and at its heart a child trying to survive.

'The kid' is a young boy from Tennessee, born during a meteor shower in 1833, who runs away from home at 14 and quickly establishes himself as a fighter and survives his first shooting (that's the first two pages). At a religious meeting in Nacogdoches he first encounters 'Judge' Holden, the huge demonic presence that dominates this novel. Seven feet tall with a vast, domed hairless head he cuts an imposing figure and causes a riot when he accuses a preacher of paedophilia and bestiality, later claiming to have never met the man before. The kid will cross paths with him again more than once but not before he has his second brush with death whilst on a fillibustering mission. In an unforgettable two page paragraph they are attacked by Comanche warriors and as one of the few survivors he walks away 'stained and stinking like some reeking issue of the incarnate dam of war herself'.

The bulk of the novel describes his time with Glanton and his gang of scalp-hunters. This is an age where the westward expansion of the United States means a bounty for any Apache scalp and this leads them into ever greater acts of violence against innocent natives and Mexicans. Amongst this group is the judge who, almost biblicly, appeared in the desert at a time of great need, helping the gang to manufature gunpowder mysteriously from the top of a mountain. Just like the kid each man of the gang claims to have met the judge at some point before. Who is this man who kills for sport and claims at the end of the novel that he will never die?

The plot of this novel is not really the important thing; this is a battle between the evil and violent side of human nature and the quality which sets the kid apart: Mercy. The violence is unremitting and extreme, too hard for some readers to stomach no doubt but written with such exquisite detail it is hard not to admire. Like a painting by Brueghel or the infamous Nazi sculptures of the Chapman brothers McCarthy is describing a landscape of violence, as when we come across a bush hung with dead babies 'Bald and pale and bloated, larval to some unreckonable being'.

I feel I could quote vast chunks of text as there are so many passages that stick in the mind, recalling classics of literature as John Banville has summised, 'The book reads like a conflation of the Inferno, The Iliad and Moby Dick.' Near the end of the novel the kid spots a large man walking towards them, a smaller figure beside him: The judge with a parasol made of bone and animal hide and an imbecile on a lead, 'like some scurrilous king stripped of his vestiture and driven together with his fool into the wilderness to die'. I found myself thinking of Pozzo leading Lucky through the wilderness of Waiting for Godot for a meeting just as extraordinary.

This novel is a masterpiece, describing in detailed prose the very qualities in man that place the concepts of hell, purgatory and the banality of evil very firmly on Earth rather than banished to the fiery regions of religious judgement. The everyman hero, the grotesque adversary, the ambiguous ending and the ambitious and mythical quality to the writing make this a novel which surley deserves its place as a runner-up in the best American fiction of the last 25 years.


Wednesday, 23 January 2008

'The Smallest Show on Earth' at The Rex, Berkhamsted

A slightly unusual post this one.

At the weekend I went to the 40th birthday party of a friend of mine. It was an unofficial party because it took place at The Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted and they don't do private hire so we had to keep it quiet, initially at least. My friend you see is an actor and had played a part in saving the cinema from disappearing altogether. Not so long ago it was derelict and had been that way for some time as a struggle continued between property developers who wanted to build flats and cineasts who were keeping them at bay with Grade II listed status and a certain amount of protection from English Heritage. The full story of what happened can be found here and makes great reading. Suffice to say the cinema has been restored, as you can see, and is quite simply the most gorgeous cinema I've been too. There is a bar downstairs and lovely tables with revolving seats which you can enjoy for the same price as a ticket in Leicester Square.

My friend has called on many of his famous contacts to come and give after-film Q&A sessions to help make the cinema a huge success (which is why we got away with the party type thing) and he picked a special film to screen on this special evening which couldn't have been more apposite. The Smallest Show on Earth tells the story of Bill and Jean, a young couple, who inherit a derelict cinema known as 'the fleapit' from a distant relative. Along with the cinema itself come three elderly employees played with comic relish by Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers and Bernard Miles. Bill's plan is to sell the cinema but when he is offered a pittance by the owner of the rival Grand he is advised by his solicitor (Leslie Philips) to pretend to reopen The Bijou and make it a going concern. There's plenty more plot to come after that but the spirit of a small cinema trying to survive against the odds made it the perfect film to show at The Rex.

The paying audience upstairs, made up of all ages I hasten to add, seemed to enjoy it as much as us champagne swillers downstairs, with a marvellously old fashioned round of applause at the end. All in all it was one of the most charming evenings out I've ever had. If you happen to live anywhere near The Rex (and even if you don't) you really should make a trip there sometime. It's well worth any effort and great to see some independence in the age of the multiplex. They show all the latest releases as well as the odd classic (Valentine's Day - Top Hat).

Their website can be found here and the cinema itself here. Go on, treat yourself.


Tuesday, 22 January 2008

far from plain

by Kent Haruf

Having recently become a father I have found an almost immediate impact on my reading. Not simply that it's harder to get any done, but with that experience and the shift in perspective I found for instance that a book like Cormac McCarthy's The Road hit me right in the gut several times. Plainsong doesn't have anything like the raw power of that but its quiet, detailed account of the pregnancy of Victoria Roubideaux and the intersecting lives of several other residents of Haruf's fictional but recognisable Holt, Colorado had me smiling, nodding and laughing to myself in recognition many times over.

The epigraph tells us that plainsong is 'unisonous vocal music...any simple and unadorned melody or air'.There are four main 'voices' in this novel which name the chapters; Victoria Roubideaux who finds herself pregnant and homeless at 17, the elderly McPheron brothers who take her in on their remote farm, Tom Guthrie a school teacher whose marriage is in trouble and his two sons Ike and Bobby. But there is another character, Maggie Jones, who quietly connects these voices in unison, bringing Guthrie out of himself and Victoria and the McPherons together. What Haruf has created is an entirely believable account of a small town and the people who make it up.

When Victoria is thrown out of home by her mother it is Maggie who comforts her but opens her eyes, 'Honey, you've got to wake up. It's time for you to wake up now...Listen to me. You're here now. This is where you are'. Maggie's senile father makes it impossible for her to take her in herself so she fosters the connection with the McPherons 'You're going to die someday without ever having had enough trouble in your life. Not of the right kind anyway. This is your chance'. It is a challenge the brothers accept and Haruf shows brilliantly their incomprehension and heartwarming efforts to accommodate her. On arriving and taking her tour of the house she notices 'hanging over the drying rods next to the bathtub, together with the two old towels, was a single fresh new pink towel that still had the store tag stapled to it.' When Maggie tells them they need to engage a woman in conversation of a evening their first hilarious attempt is a discussion about market forces. But slowly, steadily, they come to depend on each other and the brothers become like worried parents especially as the due date draws ever nearer. Much of the humour in the novel comes from the McPheron's exchanges. After Harold equates Victoria's restlessness with a pregnant heifer of theirs;

'She's a girl for christsakes. She's not a cow. You can't rate girls and cows together.
I was only just saying, Harold said. What are you getting so riled up about it for?
I don't appreciate you saying she's a heifer.
I never said she was one. I wouldn't say that for money.
It sounded like it to me. Like you was.
I just thought of it, is all, Harold said. Don't you ever think of something?
Yeah. I think of something sometimes.
Well then.
But I don't have to say it. Just because I think of it
All right. I talked out before I thought. You want to shoot me now or wait till full dark?
I'll have to let you know, Raymond said.

Tom Guthrie's wife Ella slowly estranges herself first by retreating to the bedroom, then a house across the street and finally by moving away to her sisters. With this and trouble at the school where he teaches he is distracted from the care of his two boys Ike and Bobby who find a surrogate parent in Mrs Stearns an old woman on their paper round. It is Maggie who draws him back into social life, showing her real strength in capturing this drifting man.

Throughout, Haruf writes with the kind of quiet confidence that comes from writers of a certain age. He shows great structural skill giving us first a brutal section showing the McPheron's checking their cows for calves and then Victoria's first examination by a doctor filled with compassion and her relief at finding all is well with the baby. His vivid descriptions of ordinary life give the reader a picture like clarity and he allows the spareseness of his characters language to show the unsentimental nature of life on the Colorado plains.


Friday, 18 January 2008

British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?

I'll confess to having been a little disappointed with British Sea Power's second album Open Season after the promise of their debut The Decline of British Sea Power. But Do You Like Rock Music? sees them coming back, all guns blazing, and sounding more confident than ever.

We're invited in by opener All In It but things really get started with Lights Out For Darker Skies a perfect example of their enlarged sound, almost two tracks in one. Atom is another track bursting at the seams with noise and energy and winding up with what sounds like an air raid siren. Their new exuberance shows on No Lucifer with chants of 'easy, easy' building up and bringing back memories of Big Daddy on Saturday evening and football chants. This anthemic quality hits its stride on the first single Waving Flags which unlike most crowd pleasers is actually a welcome to Eastern European immigrants coming to the UK. You see, you can always rely on BSP for a lyrical surprise. Canvey Island opens with the bird flu inspired 'H5N1/Killed a wild swan' and then goes on to describe the flooding of Canvey Island in 1953. Oasis they aren't.

Similarities to Arcade Fire are clear to hear and certain post-punk tendencies. Instrumental The Great Skua sounds a little Godspeed You! Black Emperor (whose co-founder Efrim Menuck is a producer) and is named after a bird maintaing BSP's ornithological interest. The album loses steam towards the end and closing track We Close Our Eyes seems a little pointless but they are so much more interesting than a lot of bands out there so I hope this album gives them a shot at some chart success. It certainly deserves to.

British Sea Power - No Lucifer


Thursday, 17 January 2008

'the absolute truth of the world'

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy

On the stark cover of this book there is a banner announcing it as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The first review on the back declares it's good enough to win him the Nobel Prize. The inside covers and first three pages are covered with stunning reviews from around the world. Surely after all that praise a book can only be a disappointment.

The event that has devastated the world is never made explicit beyond 'a long shear of light and then a series of low concussions' but what it has left behind is a man and his son journeying south through a ruined landscape and struggling to survive. The symbiosis of their relationship is clear from the start, this isn't simply a man looking after his son, 'the boy was all that stood between him and death'. The boy's belief in the world is the thing which keeps them both going, which is why when he says he doesn't care at one point his father replies 'don't say that, you musnt say that'. After he has a particularly bad dream his father tells him; 'When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up. Do you understand? And you cant give up. I wont let you'. Much later when the man says 'You're not the one who has to worry about everything' the boy replies simply 'Yes I am...I am the one'. Their laconic exchanges punctuate the novel, each of the boy's questions an attempt to construct a new moral structure in this dangerous environment. He needs to know that they're still the 'good guys' and as his father informs him 'They keep trying. They dont give up'.

The prose is as stripped back as the landscape itself; no speech marks, no apostrophes in words like 'dont' and 'musnt' and an almost poetic economy of language ('By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp'). Adam Mars-Jones in his review in The Guardian has already pointed out the influence of Beckett and there are many similarities, this is a writer writing with absloute conviction about what it means to be human. It is a bleak vision at times.

'He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.'

Sometimes there is a tinge of light breaking through.

'There were times when he sat watching the boy sleep that he would begin to sob uncontrollably but it wasnt about death. He wasnt sure what it was about but he thought it was about beauty or about goodness. Things that he'd no longer any way to think about at all.'

But there are also surprising moments that lift you up. The boy's simple enjoyment of a salvaged can of Coke is incredibly effective, I was gasping for one afterwards. His delivery of grace when they enjoy a relative feast at table is filled with hope in a world which seems to have been forsaken by God.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted, it is filled with everything that we're made of; episodes of brutality and violence, pure animal survival, heads raised to the sky filled with questions and moments of redemption which bring a tear to the eye. I was utterly involved from start to finish and I urge you to read this book now. It really is as good as they say.

'When we're all gone at last then there'll be nobody here but death and his days will be numbered too. He'll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody to do it to.'


Monday, 14 January 2008


No One Belongs Here More Than You
by Miranda July

Miranda July has a website with one of the most charming entry pages ever. Go to it here and you will see what I mean. The official website for this book will also give you a good idea of her sense of humour. For those who have seen her film Me and You and Everyone We Know this collection of stories will have a familiar feel. It is an unsettling experience sometimes to see the world through July's eyes but there is an innocence in her characters which is incredibly endearing and which means that even the strangest of them can arouse our sympathy.

Innocence does not mean that these stories are soft in any way. On the contrary, July has the ability to cut through her own setups with a moment that will suddenly shift your perspective. In Majesty we meet a middle aged woman obsessed with Prince William but as we read we see that her sex-life has always been lived vicariously through her sisters exploits and how symbiotic this relationship is. 'It is this way between us; it has always been this way. She has always taken care of me like this. If I could quietly kill her without anyone knowing, I would'.

In a few stories we see the moment when couples realise that they are not right for each other. In The Man On The Stairs a woman is convinced that if the intruder she can hear in her house were to enter her bedroom he would be able to see in her boyfriend's eyes, 'You can have her, just let me live. And in my eyes, he would see the words: I never really knew true love'. In Mon Plaisir a couple realise that they must part when the passion that has been missing from their relationship finally surfaces as they pretend to be other people whilst working as background actors on a film. Something That Needs Nothing shows us a young girl driven to work in a peep show after her roommate/unconsummated lover leaves her. Out of this situation comes surprising humour:

'All I had was a key to the apartment. If I didn't make any money tonight I would have to walk back there. At night. In this outfit. I was in a unique situation where I needed to give a Live Fantasy Show in order to protect my personal safety.'

When she meets her friend again it is her new persona, her wig and strippers garb, that seems to facilitate the consummation of their relationship. The description of which articulates perfectly the anticipation of sharing a bed with someone you want so badly.

'We lay there, perfectly still, for a long time. Finally, the man upstairs coughed, which set off a wave of kinetic energy. Pip adjusted her shoulders so that the outermost edge of her T-shirt grazed my arm; I recrossed my legs, carelessly letting my ankle fall against her shin. Five more seconds passed, like heavy bass drum beats, the three of us were motionless. Then he shifted on the couch and we instantly turned to each other, each mouth fell upon the other, our hands grabbed urgently, even painfully.'

The final story of the collection How To Tell Stories To Children is a triumph. Covering decades in just over 20 pages it describes the relationship between a middle aged woman and the daughter of her married friends whose relationship is in terminal decline. It contains many intricacies and insights into the dependence of this childless woman on her charge. On her website July is happy to declare that the story ends with the word triumphant and by the time you reach the end of this book you will know how important context is to the meaning of even that one single word.


Saturday, 12 January 2008

mmmmmmmmmm bacon tastes good

Jim Gaffigan on bacon



Friday, 11 January 2008

Joker in the pack

by Nicola Barker

Near the beginning of this vast novel there is moment of schadenfreude.

'At approximately the half-way point, his trousers started slipping; the fabric locked just above his knees, and he tumbled. It was a dramatic fall - a jester's fall - with all the additional frills and embellishments.
Beede closed his eyes (in an effort to repress a sharp bark of laughter-

Where did that urge come from?)

- then he turned his face away, waited patiently for a slight lull in the traffic, and moved implacably onward.'

I mention it because it is a good example of a few things which typify this book. There is the textual wordplay, there is the mention of a jester and be assured there is a jester in this novel. Not simply the haunting presence of John Scogin, court jester to Edward IV, whose voice pushes its way into the text and who exerts his influence on several characters like a puppet master but also the author herself who peppers this book with so many nudges and winks that you can almost hear her chuckling away.

Set in Ashford, 'Gateway to Europe', this is, we are told, a very modern novel. But for Barker '
history isn't just something that happened in the past, but a juggernaut with faulty brakes which is intent on mowing you down'. She has given her characters Dickensian names; we have Beede (a venerable man indeed) and his son Kane (a drug dealer) whose relationship is so fractured that their meeting in a restaurant at the beginning of the novel is purely coincidental and they refuse to enlighten each other as to why they might be there. During their stuttered exchange Kane sees a man on a horse, dressed in yellow, but when he looks later to see a man dismounting he has mysteriously changed and become Beede's friend Isidore who may or may not be German but who is definitely suffering from some form of mental illness. Confused? We haven't even begun yet. Isidore's son Fleet is a very special child indeed, having built a replica of a church and medieval village from matches at home and frequently reciting history with more authority than any 4 year old could possibly have. His mother Elen, a chiropodist, seems to exert an extraordinary pull on the men she meets whilst hiding a livid set of bruises on her wrist. Kane's ex-girlfriend Kelly, a fantastic creation, is a foul mouthed chav who hooks up with Kane's henchman Gaffar, a Kurd with an extreme fear of lettuce. And we still have yet to meet the forger Peta Borough (!) who may have an explanation for much that happens in the 838 pages of what is an exhilarating and far from disorganised journey through a couple of days in this less than ordinary town.

It is easy to see why the Booker jury found it difficult to award the prize to a novel that is bursting with so many ideas. Even the text is uncontrollable, punctuated by parenthesis and italicised interruptions from the jesting spirit but as the forger Peta says; '
language won't be restricted. Because language is uncontainable. Like a fast running river. It bubbles up and splashes and spills'. For some it may be a quirk too far but I found it an incredibly unsettling experience to read a text so unrestricted and felt the genuine horror of the characters as they found themselves no longer in control of the words that left their mouths. It is all done with such humour as well. Barker has created some brilliant comic characters in Kelly Broad, daughter of the infamous Dina ('Jabba the Hut with a womb, chronic asthma and a council flat'), whose filthy utterances continue unabated even after she has a close brush with God. Gaffar too provides some classic moments, his frustrations voiced in Kurdish and printed clearly for us to read in bold Gothic type. As he watches the classic documentary Touching The Void with Kane it is Kane who observes 'one irreducible fact is that people who climb mountains are invariably cunts.'

What this all means is harder to decipher but there is plenty of fun to be had with the past, as another character mentions; '
It's a fascinating business. Kind of like solving a crime. Like unravelling a mystery story. All the clues are in the text and your job is simply to sniff them out'. Which isn't to say that it's any fun for the characters involved. Far from it. The jester Scogin is a malevolent influence on this novel as you would expect from a man who became notorious for locking several beggars in a barn and then burning it to the ground.


Monday, 7 January 2008

Crowning Glory

Knocked Up

I didn't go to see Knocked Up when it was first released for the simple fact that my wife was 8 months pregnant at the time, I had heard that there was an infamous 'crowning' scene and, hey, we weren't quite ready to watch that sort of thing for entertainment. A few months down the line and sufficiently recovered from our own crowning scene we settled down to watch the film (albeit frequently interrupted by the cries of our new arrival).

Slacker Ben is quite happy dossing around with his flatmates, smoking weed, as they work on a website which provides the timings and details of your favourite movie stars nude appearances. On a night out he has the good fortune to meet career girl Alison who is out celebrating her promotion and after a few drinks too many the two share a one night stand. After the predictably uncomfortable morning after they go there seperate ways only for Alison to discover 8 weeks later that she is pregnant. We then follow the trials and tribulations of this mis-matched couple as they try to prepare themselves for the birth.

There are a few credibility issues with the storyline for sure, but this is a romantic comedy and the important thing is that it contains laugh after laugh after laugh. The piss-taking amongst the guys is relentless and Seth Rogen is perfect in the role of Ben with one of the most ridiculous laughs since Eddie Murphy. Katherine Heigl is sweetly confused as she goes through the various stages of pregnancy. The supporting cast is great too (there are clear advantages to a director casting his own wife and kids) with Paul Rudd putting in another great performance. Yes, there are a few sentimental moments but they are always counter-balanced by something a little gross or bittersweet and all in all it makes for one of the funnier romantic comedies in years.

The DVD contains a few funny extras too including some genuine gross-out moments in a short film about shooting the rollercoaster scene.


Saturday, 5 January 2008

McSweeney's at 25

I have been an occasional subscriber to McSweeney's (or Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern to give it its full title) over the years and as the 25th issue recently came through my letterbox, marking a sort of anniversary, I thought it might be worth having a look back at this most curious and ground breaking of journals.

McSweeney's was begun by Dave Eggers in 1998 shortly before the publication of his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius which went on to become a huge commercial and critical hit. It provided the opportunity for young writers to be published alongside some of the more established voices of American fiction; The first issue included pieces from David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody as well as early work from Ana Marie Cox and Adrienne Miler, all of which had been rejected previously by other magazines. What immediately marked it out was its tone. This was a literary journal that was fun, that had a sense of humour, that was, dare I use the word, quirky. From the copyright page to the list of contributors at the back no seemingly mundane page is left untouched by the impish desire to confound your expectations -God is in the details.

With the fourth edition there was a change in style. The black and white book was replaced by a cardboard box filled with 14 individual booklets, each with its own illustration. From there McSweeney's hasn't looked back, trying with each issue to find new and more inventive ways of presenting its wares. This has included the use of large rubber bands, a cigar box, magnets, playing cards and a free comb. Some have been beautiful like issue 13 with an elaborate fold-out dust jacket created by Chris Ware. Others have been quirky for quirky sake like issue 17 which came as a bundle of mail which seemed to conceal the fact that there wasn't much to actually read. I am prepared to admit that I'm a sucker for a beautiful book, some editions are a joy to behold and I find myself regularly pulling them off the shelves for a quick flick. There is also no doubt that some of the pieces are excellent but as someone who has yet to truly appreciate the short story form I have found myself getting most pleasure from the odd and unexpected non-fiction articles.

So the journal has become admired as much for its artistic exterior as the quality of the writing inside (and maybe not always staying on the right side of that balance) but it is what else McSweeney's has become that makes it groundbreaking. There is McSweeney's Books which maintains the high publishing standards with both fiction and non-fiction covering everything from the criminal justice system to 'How to Dress for Every Occasion' by The Pope. There are now two other journals; The Believer edited by Eggers' wife Vendela Vida among others and containing book reviews and interviews, and also Wolphin a quarterly DVD magazine featuring short films, documentaries and animation. Gathering all of this together is McSweeney's Internet Tendency, the website, which contains new items daily.

But on top of all this publishing and most laudable of all is the creation of 826 National 'a family of seven non-profit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages 6-18, with expository and creative writing.' Starting first in his native San Francisco these youth writing centres have spread across the States promoting the importance of writing in the development of young people. Dave Eggers most recent novel What is the What has also drawn attention to the plight of those who suffered in Sudan, again particularly the children. It is very heartening to see a man channel every piece of luck, acclaim and publicity back into creating something new, something useful, something of a legacy.

Happy Birthday McSweeney's (and I look forward to issue 27 which comes 'in a windowed slipcase').


Friday, 4 January 2008

Scotch Mist - A film with Radiohead in it

Broadcast over the internet on New Years Eve this is Radiohead playing every song on their new album In Rainbows. It's 53 minutes long so if you've the time and broadband then press play and enjoy. Happy New Year!


Wednesday, 2 January 2008


I can still remember very vividly the night I went to see Se7en. I was with two friends and we arrived just in time to catch the start but not to get seats together, so we went our seperate ways and watched the film without that tiny link that you have when you're sat next to a friend, the ability to look to your side, raise an eyebrow, gauge what they think about the film. As the credits rolled we reconvened in silence and made our way to grab a bite to eat and it was a good few minutes after we sat down before we were able to articulate what an amazing experience watching that film had been.

A few years later I went with another friend to see Fight Club and when we both came rolling out of the cinema I wan't sure whether what I had just watched was the stupidest or most amazing film I had ever seen. David Fincher is an exciting director, no doubt, but for every Fight Club, there's a Panic Room, for every Se7en an Alien3. His films seem to alternate in quality and by my reckoning that meant I was in for a treat with Zodiac. And I was right.

I don't think it is spoiling anything to mention that this film is based on a series of murders which took place around San Francisco in the 60's and 70's and that remain unsolved. But just as James Ellroy's book The Black Dahlia was a compelling story not only of what might have happened but of what effect crimes like these can have on those who try to solve them, this film is a brilliant depiction of terror, detection and obsession.

The opening section of the film is actually the weakest, feeling like your average serial killer movie, and due to the extended timeline of the film and the fragmented nature of the action we have a lot of captions telling us '4 days later', '2 weeks later' etc. But as The Zodiac's taunting letters begin to arrive and we see the detail of investigation from both the police and press the tension really begins to build. Having mentioned his intention to attack a children's school bus the resulting panic will be eerily familiar to those who have felt the pressure of living in a city on terror alert.

The casting is excellent, Jake Gyllenhall gives another outstanding performance and particularly in the latter stages of the film, as he tries valiantly to piece together all of the disparate lines of inquiry, he shows how the victims of this killer were not limited to those he attacked. Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr are both excellent as well but Fincher has also assembled an amazing supporting cast throughout, there isn't a single weak. Having grown up in the area at the time of the killings Fincher brings a very personal touch to the material. The period is beautifully observed, the dialogue spot on and he shows great confidence in allowing the story to unfold slowly over two and a half hours. In one of his letters to the press The Zodiac said 'I am waiting for a good movie about me'. With this film Fincher has provided it but correctly focused on the victims rather than glorifying the killer.


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