Watching Zodiac with Se7en and Fight Club in mind might disappoint those expecting a typical David Fincher movie, but his exploration of a serial killer's reign across 70s San Francisco is highly rewarding, provided you're willing to put in the (2 and a half) hours. The Zodiac killer submitted citizens of California to everything from fear to mild bemusement for the better part of a decade with his media-baiting ciphers and acts of terrible violence. Meanwhile reporters, police and an obsessed cartoonist named Robert Graysmith spent those years trying and ultimately failing to put a face to the name. Fincher's own fascination with the case really comes across here, and while he doesn't shrink from the horror of the murders, this is his most traditional, but most accomplished feat of storytelling to date.
The pin sharp dialogue and perfectly paced story is accompanied by a first rate cast - most notably Robert Downey Jnr's hack Paul Avery and Mark Ruffalo's dogged homicide detective David Toschi. The story veers away swiftly from standard serial killer fare to intense procedural, focussing on the obsession of the men trying to stop Zodiac. And the real accomplishment here is that audiences will feel their regret, because to this day, the killer has never been caught. Despite this and the intimidating running time, those with the patience will be rewarded with one of the best crime thrillers in years. --Luke Mawson
Closer in spirit to a police procedural than a gory serial-killer flick, David Fincher's Zodiac provides a sleek, armrest-gripping re-invention of the crime film. It surveys the investigation of the Zodiac killings that terrorized the San Francisco Bay area in the late -60-early -70s; Zodiac not only killed people, but cultivated a Jack the Ripper aura by sending icky letters to the newspapers and daring readers to solve coded messages. But the film's focus isn't on the killer. We follow the reporters and detectives whose lives are taken over by the case, notably an addictive crime writer (a sartorially splendid Robert Downey Jr.), an awkward editorial cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal), and a hard-working cop (Mark Ruffalo). Fincher and his brilliant cinematographer Harris Savides are deft at capturing the period feel of the city, without laying on the seventies kitsch, and James Vanderbilt's script doles out its big moments to major and minor characters alike. Fincher's confidence is infectious; the movie glides through its myriad details with such dexterity that even the blind alleys and red herrings seem essential. The well-chosen cast includes unexpected people popping up all over: Anthony Edwards as a lunch-bucket homicide cop; Charles Fleischer as a mysterious suspect; Elias Koteas and Donal Logue as small-town policemen whose districts are hit by Zodiac; Chloe Sevigny as Gyllenhaal's sweet-natured wife; Brian Cox as the media-friendly lawyer Melvin Belli, so famous he once appeared on Star Trek; and the mighty John Carroll Lynch, as a supremely creepy suspect. The film is based on non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith (he's portrayed by Gyllenhaal), although Fincher and co. did extensive research on their own. The result is a propulsive whodunit without (thus far) an ending, but the uncertainty makes the film even more intriguing. --Robert Horton