Movie Review: “Zodiac”
After the San Francisco Chronicle received a cryptic series of letters from a self-professed killer, the newspaper’s reporters and editors are quickly disturbed by the level of detail used by the unknown author of the letters. The author—referring to himself as the “Zodiac”—shared details of an unsolved murder case that occurred one month earlier on July 4th, 1969. The Zodiac shared details that were never released to the public, which suggests that he is exactly who he says he is, and is the one responsible for the murders. The problem is that the letters have given no clues to the identity of the Zodiac, and suggest that the Zodiac is only just getting started.
Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle, but he has taken an interest—as many have—in the cryptic letters. Graysmith has a unique mind, one that excels at solving puzzles and allows him to put himself in the mindset of the one writing the letters. Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), and other editors at the newspaper do not take Graysmith very seriously. I mean, what value could a cartoonist add to this case? However, Graysmith‘s determination and valuable input does not go unnoticed, making him an essential member of the team, as the newspaper works with the police to try to find the killer.
The Pros & Cons
The Main Cast (+8pts)
The Mystery (+10pts)
Robert Graysmith (+5pts)
The Ending (-3pts)
Pro: The Main Cast (+8pts)
The main cast in Zodiac was filled with great actors. First there was Jake Gyllenhaal in the main role, who played the character in a way that was interesting, relatable, and had depth. The character had a unique mind, but Jake Gyllenhaal played him in a way that made it easy to connect with the character anyway. Then there was Robert Downey Jr. in the role of the primary editor at the newspaper, and Mark Ruffalo in the role of the primary inspector on the case. Each actor brought their unique styles to this movie, and all three nailed their share of dramatic scenes. It was an interesting story, but needed a main cast that could give it the drama and suspense that it needed, and these three actors were able to do exactly that.
Con: Long (-4pts)
This movie would have been a lot better if the filmmakers had been able to trim it down. It ended up being about two hours and forty minutes, which was almost an hour longer than it needed to be. Was it a bad or boring story? Absolutely not, but it felt pretty slow and drawn out.
That is not to say that it did not have its intense and suspenseful moments, but there was a lot that could have been cut. The Zodiac killer took many victims over the course of many years. The filmmakers felt the need to cram as many of these murders as they could into this story. They could have done a montage, or they could have implied a bunch of them without showing them on screen. Instead, the filmmakers decided to drag the movie out, which made the movie a lot longer and a lot slower than it needed to be. It was an interesting story, but I think it would have been a lot more effective if the filmmakers were able to reduce the run-time by trimming down some of these scenes.
Pro: The Mystery (+10pts)
This movie was about the Zodiac killer, and the series of unsolved murders committed by whoever he was. To this day, the identity of the Zodiac killer is still unknown, but the murders he committed were heavily reported and his alias was known across the country. It was a high profile case that spanned across many years. This on top of the fact that the murders are still unsolved, made this a really natural and compelling thriller.
This was an interesting one for me, because I knew going into the movie that the murders were still unsolved. Nonetheless, I was still totally invested in seeing the main characters catch the killer. Part of this was due to the mystery format, but it was really a testament to the filmmaker’s ability to build suspense and intrigue in the mystery. They had to make a movie about a notoriously unsolved series of murders, yet they had to get the audience to be invested in the mystery anyway, and I thought they did this really effectively.
Con: Time (-3pts)
I kind of already danced around this issue while talking about how long the movie was, but there was another issue related to the length of the movie. That other issue was the amount of time that this story felt the need to cover. Yes, the Zodiac killer took many victims across many years, but the filmmakers felt the need to have the movie revisit our main characters in multiple time periods. Some of this was necessary to show the passage of time, but I just do not think it was necessary to this extent, and think it only contributed in making the movie feel longer than it already was. I have sat through three hour movies that did not feel long. However, this movie was a long movie that felt long, and I think the amount of screen-time that was shown visiting the main characters in each time period was a major reason why. None of it was bad, but cutting some of this down would have made the movie feel a lot more refined.
Pro: Robert Graysmith (+5pts)
This character was an interesting one. This was partially due to Jake Gyllenhaal playing the character so effectively, but it was also due to how well the character was written. The story very strongly suggested that Robert Graysmith's unique mind allowed him to relate to the killer in a way that few others could. This gave Graysmith an incredibly unique and valuable insight regarding the case.
Did it help him catch the killer? I am not going to give that away, although if you know anything about this case, then you will probably have a guess as to the answer to that question. This case is known for being unsolved, in terms of confirming the killer's identity. Regardless of whether or not the filmmakers stayed true to the real-life events, or if they fictionalized an ending such that the killer was caught, this was a story about a chase and about failing to catch the killer over the span of many years. It was a story about the mental impact that a chase like this could have on those trying to catch the killer. It was an interesting, captivating story about a few characters dealing with this, and Graysmith's journey was the most compelling of the group.
Con: The Ending (-3pts)
I was hoping that the filmmakers would be able to end this movie in an impactful way, despite knowing approximately how this story would end. The identity of the Zodiac killer is unknown to this day. Although there are theories regarding who the killer was, they are still only theories. This meant that, if this movie was to be accurate to the real-life events, this movie would have to end in a way that left the identity of the killer shrouded in mystery. The result was an ending that felt pretty anti-climactic. I know why it had to end in they way that it did, more or less, but after a two hour and forty minute movie, I was hoping the ending would have more of an impact. Unfortunately, it felt like a bit of a let down.
Grade: B+ (88pts)
This movie had the benefit of being about one of the most infamous killers in recent history. The Zodiac killer was responsible for a string of murders that took place across many years, and the identity of the killer was never confirmed. The cases are, to this day, unsolved, and it made for a naturally compelling and suspenseful story. The movie's set backs were that it was really long—far longer than it should have been—and it covered a very large portion of time, which made the story feel really drawn out.
The movie was really long, but it was always interesting. As I said, the mystery was naturally very compelling, and I was totally invested in it even though I knew there was a very strong possibility that the movie would end with the case unsolved. It made for a somewhat anti-climactic ending, but the road to that ending was an interesting one. It was a story about a group of protagonists that struggled with not being able to catch the killer for a very long time. It was about the mental impact that this could have on someone, which resulted in a few compelling character stories—the most compelling of which was Robert Graysmith's story. The movie could have been trimmed down quite a bit, which would have resulted in a much more refined story, but the movie was pretty interesting and suspenseful anyway.