Zodiac (2007)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 5; L-5 ; S/N-4 . Running time: 2 hours 36 min.

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’;
all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’
Psalm 10:1-4

Although there have been other films, such as Dirty Harry, inspired by the real life Zodiac serial killer who struck terror into northern Californians in the late 1960s and 70s, nothing quite like this David Fincher directed film has been made. Scriptwriter James Vanderbilt built his screenplay on Robert Graysmith’s two books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked. Robert Graysmith, played by the innocent-looking Jake Gyllenhaal, was the cartoonist for The San Francisco CHRONICLE when he first heard the editorial board talk about the serial killer, who would send taunting notes and cryptic puzzles to the newspaper (and two others), demanding that they publish them or he would strike again. Robert Downey Jr. plays Paul Avery, the rebellious crime reporter who is about as devoted to drink and drugs as he is to his profession. Assigned to the story, he resents Graysmith’s looking over his shoulder: the latter, good at puzzles and codes is able to solve the killer’s cryptograms. Mark Ruffalo portrays Detective Dave Toschi, who regards Avery and Graysmith as a nuisance during the early years of the hunt for the killer, but, years later, changes his opinion of Graysmith when the latter approaches him with his research into the identity of the still at large killer.

The over two and a half hour long film is too complicated to go into here, but the police procedural/thriller never flags in holding one’s attention. The film spans almost thirty years, during which the trail goes cold and at times the killer apparently inactive (there is often doubt as to whether he really committed all the murders he claimed while active). The scene in which the detectives interrogate a worker, who might or might not be the killer is almost as chilling as the brutal murders—though fortunately we are not shown all of the gory details of the latter. Robert Graysmith’s interest in the case becomes such an obsession that he loses both his newspaper job and his marriage. And yet, if his books and this film are to be believed, he did uncover the identity of the killer, although fate (or God) intervened, so that officially the killings were never solved. The film goes well with Psalm 10: were the men in the film of a religious bent, one could imagine them turning to it many times in their long and difficult pursuit of the brutal murderer who not only eluded justice but taunted those who sought to uphold it.