Saturday, December 28, 2013

Zodiac


  I didn't pay much attention to Zodiac the first time I saw it back in 2007. It was long, uninteresting, and a bit pretentious in my opinion. Ignoring the fact that something about it stuck in my head and stayed with me... I later discovered another of the director's earlier works, Se7en. Which I absolutely fell in love with. Director David Fincher hooked me. I wanted more, and I found it. I revisited Alien 3, Panic Room, I saw The Game, and Fight Club- and then... Zodiac was always just on the tip of my brain, waiting to find it's way into an instant queue, or onto a wish list, into my hands, and ultimately into my Blu Ray player. Much thanks to my buddy David for honing in on my love for Fincher this past Christmas, it was truly a treat to revisit this movie.

  Unlike Se7en, and quite intentionally so, this is not a movie drenched in visual flair. It's not so much a movie steeped in artistic intent, as it is a movie presenting the quite real, and already scary enough facts about a real life killer. It's factual integrity is apparent in the way the movie progresses, it doesn't jump out at you with flashy action scenes or long intense foot chases. It's methodical and procedural. It seems like fact. The visuals and the pacing are the way they are to help accentuate that feeling. I got wrapped up in the mystery, the inane clue chasing, the double backing, the decade long hunt that passed from one tortured man to another and another, and back again.  It's not a movie about catching the killer, it's a movie about the process it takes to catch a killer... and that it doesn't always work. The movie Dirty Harry was based on the Zodiac case. Only, in Dirty Harry there's a nice and neat ending. The killer gets shot in the chest...

  Zodiac doesn't aim for such a Hollywood wrap up. It's not one of those movies "based on a true story" where "loosely" should be placed in front of "based". The movies where, despite being inhabited by real people in real settings, it still plays fast and loose with fact in order to please audiences. Zodiac forbids that sort of thing with every single frame of it's runtime. It relishes the mystery as it is, and presents it in it's raw, unflinching, hypnotic, enigmatic and ultimately... haunting nature.  The facts themselves are as interesting as the characters who get wrapped up in them, scouring files and reports for missed details. So obsessed they become, we see their personal lives deteriorate, and it struck me that the lives of the people so hopelessly invested in this case, to a point of no return... qualify as victims of the Zodiac killer as well, in a way. A very interesting and distinct way.

  The film employs visual effects in a subtle way that I thought was very well done. In one scene, a neighborhood is altered with computer graphics to make it more period-accurate, seeing as how it had undergone radical changes since the 60's. I never noticed it until I researched the movie a bit. Which, if you'll pardon a small tangent, that's how I feel CGI should be. Unnoticeable. So seamless and realistic, that one doesn't even notice it's there and is unable to point it out. Speaking of pointing it out, the movie does something very well, it leads our suspicious down the same path of the characters. The real people. The real life suspect. The guy the cops actually suspected, but could never prove his guilt. The movie doesn't present some peripheral fringe theory, and only strays from the main focus to illustrate the extent of certain characters' obsessions, and other's glaring lack of motivation. Interesting parallels, quite polarizing as it were.

  The movie doesn't go out of it's way to glorify the murders, or the killer. If anything it de-glamorizes him. The emphasis is on the procedure, and then as years go by in the film, procedure becomes obsession. Which is dangerous. The people hunting for clues and leads want a resolution to this as much as we, the audience does. It's mesmerizing and engrossing, yet without a breakneck pace or being overly morose. We never see the inside of a morgue, we never see the typical sights like that. The movie is too good for that. On the other hand, if you haven't let yourself get all caught up in the minute detail and the goings on of these people- the pacing may seem languid to you. Which is unfortunate because this movie is a devilishly clever piece of anti-Hollywood filmmaking, that not even a decade after it's release deserves to be rediscovered. Or maybe just discovered.

 In a day and age where people are borderline tired of the Superhero genre, and remakes are repulsive to them as well- this is the kind of movie we should devour with astute interest and enthusiasm. It's high quality filmmaking that isn't afraid to break a few rules and rebel against the norm to achieve it's goals. One might easily expect this film to play like Se7en, but you'd be wrong, and terribly so. It's it's own beast, and kudos to David Fincher for not piggybacking off prior work and getting me legitimately interested in this real thing that took place, as sad as it was. Oddly enough, my interest is piqued, I'm spinning my own theories in my head, and I'm doing some legitimate searching, and it mirrors the nature of the movie...

   Puzzles beg to be solved, especially the unsolved ones. That might sound stupid and inane, but think about mystery movies, or movies where the killer gets caught. There's such a saccharine sweet finality to it that you can shut your brain off when it's over and move on. The pieces fit together and the answer reveals itself and ta da. The police race across the city, running all the red lights to catch the villain and always just in time. The appeal of Zodiac is much more grounded and mentally stimulating. The pieces are all there, they've been cross referenced, indexed, double checked, quadruple checked, re-checked, re-indexed, scoured with nothing short of a Holmesian magnifying glass... and in the end you have nothing better than a hunch and an educated guess. Your brain is still working on it when the movie is over. It leaves you something to think about. As sad as it is that this is an actual case, and a murderer got away- something about the fact that to this year a definitely conclusion has not been drawn, makes this all the more intriguing to me...

  I best stop while I'm ahead, the lure of an unsolved puzzle all but destroyed every protagonist in the movie.
You wonder at what point do you hang up the cape? At what point is it okay to stop? I dunno. The movie makes several gestures towards an answer, but that's not it's job. Regardless, it's a fantastic movie. One I'd love to revisit again someday in the future.

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