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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Zodiac -- a hunt, mystery and the obvious sign

Just like one can't judge a book by its cover, one can't (and shouldn't) judge a film by its genre. Ratatouille & Zodiac are two of the best Hollywood films of 2007 but both were films that I had dismissed on first glance. Having already changed my mind about Ratatouille, it was going to be the turn of this dark serial killer film.

Zodiac (2007, Director David Fincher): Rating 10/10

A few minutes of dialogues and then bang, the first victim. No wasted dialogue, just straight to the point. The main characters of the film slowly start appearing, the cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), crime beat reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). The first cipher of the killer's code arrives with a warning -- publish the code in the paper or innocent people will perish. Code is published and average citizens take a crack at breaking the code. With the code broken, the first set of clues are established. A jump in time later and another killing. Another code, the mystery widens. With each killing, the list of suspects grows. Trails lead to dead ends. Until, finally out of nowhere, a good tip leads to one alarming suspect. Yes, this might be him. Film is 98 minutes old. Then, with the suspect in front of the police, the camera fades to black.

No, it was not him. Then the real movie starts. A much faster paced investigative film with as much enthusiasm and intelligence as displayed in All the President's men. In that 1976 film, Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward followed 'the money' to uncover the mystery. In Zodiac, Robert Graysmith starts with minimal information (newspaper clippings) and armed only with his keen sense of curiosity & observance. It is fascinating to watch Robert Graysmith uncover layer after layer of the onion peel. Each clue he receives, lights up the darkened path leading to the Zodiac. As the tension builds, the film charges ahead in the quest for the truth.

The film does a commendable job in keeping the audience involved. The clues are shown as they appeared to the real life people involved in solving the case. As a result, the audience arrives at the same conclusions along with the main characters. But what really makes this film stand out is its structure. The first 98 minutes make for a good film -- serial killer, victims, patterns, suspects, characters and clues. But it is during the last hour when the movie really shines. The final 60 minutes puts all these clues together and tries to fill the missing gaps. Since we have already been given bits of information before hand, when Graysmith starts putting together the full picture, we can follow his train of thought. We even get a sense of his fascination with the case and the lengths he will go to satisfy his curiosity.

Another strong aspect of the film is its ability to stay constantly focused on the main plot; any tiny diversions from the hunt are elements relevant to the story -- for example, a first date for Robert is a useful addition because it shows his obsession with the mystery.

Overall, Zodiac is a truly fascinating film that takes a often repeated genre in Hollywood films and turns it into a polished intelligent work. A film like this and even the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder (2003, also based on a real life serial killer) show that beauty & originality can exist inside an ugly pool of cliches.

Note: One can find some elements similar to Fincher's Seven. The fade to black shot at the 98 minute mark is similarly framed to when John Doe finally appeared before the police in Seven. The shades of darkness also evokes a mood found in that 1995 film.

4 comments:

RC said...

zodiac and ratatoille are my favorite two films of the year so far. glad you liked zodiac, i did too.

Heidi B said...

I should be getting that film in the next week. I can't wait to see it.

Sachin G. said...

RC,

Thanks for your comments. Do let me know of any other worthy films that I might have missed this year. I know I have missed out on quite a few films and need to catch up.

Heidi,

Let me know what you think of the film.

Heidi B said...

I just finished the movie and it was fantastic. Usually movies that are that long lag at one point or have a lot of useless filler but this one didn't. I must agree that both of these films are of the top for 2007.

I have had numerous "Top 5 Pixar film" conversations with co-workers lately...I would love to hear your selection. Mine:
1. Ratatoille
2. Bugs Life (was #1)
3. Finding Nemo