David Fincher has earned most cinema-goers admiration and respect over the years. Having directed 'Seven' and 'Fight Club' in particular, Fincher has pretty much ensured that if he makes a film, I will go and see it as I have yet to be disappointed with anything he has been responsible for.
In many ways, Zodiac is unlike any of the other films that Fincher has directed in the past. Firstly, this is a retro-piece: the film begins in the late 1960s and the story unfolds over the next 20 years. Based on Robert Graysmith's book 'Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed', Zodiac is in equal measures part thriller and arguably part biography (of Graysmith himself). As the title of Graysmith's book suggests, the film is about the search for a mysterious killer calling himself 'Zodiac'.
What most sets this Film apart from any of Fincher's previous work, or indeed from most of today's Hollywood films, is that this is very much an ensemble drama - much more so in the vein of 'L.A. Confidential' than of the shallow 'Oceans 11'. While Graysmith is actually one of the central characters in the film - one whose spiralling obsession with unearthing the identity of Zodiac is portrayed convincingly and with some charm by Jake Gyllenhaal - there are several other characters occupying equally significant roles in Zodiac.
One such is journalist Paul Avery, played by an on-form-again Robert Downey Jr., who steals every scene in which he appears, and whose self-destructive obsession with the Zodiac case serves to foreshadow the path which Gyllenhaal's character seems determined to follow. Alongside Downey and Gyllenhaal, and trying to solve the case in an official capacity, are a host of police characters led by Detectives David Toschi and William Armstrong played by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards (of 'E.R.' and 'Top Gun' fame) respectively.
All of the main characters are linked not only by their investigation into and search for the Zodiac killer but also by the effects on their respective lives that such a lengthy and frustrating process inevitably brings to bear. It is the playing out of this dramatic tension across the lives of the main characters which is really much more at the heart of this film than the gruesome deeds perpetrated by Zodiac himself. Consequenetly, this film is much better understood as a tense investigative drama rather than the kind of horrific thriller (in the mold of 'Seven') that the trailer hinted at.
All in all, this is an enjoyably different kind of movie than the usual fare Hollywood churns out these days. There is much more attention paid to the development of characters and the overall drama than to traditional mainstream 'action'. The result is a very refreshing change and a movie that is well worth seeing. I think the important thing is to know what you're in for ahead of time as the marketing for this movie really misrepresented what it actually is and has to offer. This is certainly one of the best and most compelling ensemble dramas that I have seen a long time with some really excellent performances. Whether you will ultimately feel satisfied by it really depends on the mindset with which you approach this movie.