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.