Zodiac ★★★★½

I have been wanting to give Zodiac a second chance for a long time, and I figured I would like it more on a rewatch, but I did not expect to like it THIS MUCH MORE. The first time, I went into the movie expecting something thrilling and propulsive like David Fincher's previous works—his last film was Panic Room! it's all about panicking!—and found myself incredibly bored at two hours and forty minutes of barely anything happening. The second time, I knew better what kind of movie to expect, but perhaps more importantly, I'd listened to the audiobook and watched the miniseries of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, which is basically Zodiac if Jake Gyllenhaal were married to Patton Oswalt and the serial killer were also a rapist, seen Dark Waters, which is basically Zodiac if Mark Ruffalo were a lawyer and the serial killer were DuPont, and watched Mindhunter, which is basically Zodiac if Jake Gyllenhaal were Mark Ruffalo. So now with a familiarity and a fondness for these types of stories...oh yeah, Zodiac is really goddamn good. Fincher opens with a Zodiac killing—one of only a few scenes that actually feature the killer, who's portrayed by a different actor each time—and all of these scenes are tense, brutal, and distressing, like scenes out of a horror movie, and thus they position the Zodiac as some unknowable force of evil, a supernatural terror who's out there, always out there, while people go about their daily lives. People as a collective, as is shown in various montages that show the effect the serial killings have on San Francisco, but also three individual people: cartoonist Jake Gyllenhaal, reporter Robert Downey, Jr., and detective Mark Ruffalo. We get no exposition or backstory about these folks, and yet they come alive as people thanks to small human details like a penchant for animal crackers or a love of blue drinks. Little humorous moments give them character even though the film isn't necessarily about them as people—although it does show how their obsession with catching the Zodiac ruins their lives and their personal relationships—so much as it is about the procedure and process of old-school investigation, the interplay between the police and the media, the bureaucracy that hinders communication, the thrill of ciphers and codebreaking. The film actually has a lot of THRILLING elements, but Fincher maintains a determined sense of realism for the most part, rarely giving into sensationalist tendencies that belie the fact that you're watching a deliberately constructed screenplay brought to life. And James Vanderbilt's screenplay based on Robert Graysmith's book is always moving forward, holy shit, there's never a scene that feels unnecessary because it's either pushing the investigation toward yet another red herring or it's developing a character relationship. I assumed the film would sag at some point since I'd thought it was boring, but in two hours and forty minutes, it NEVER DOES. After a while, you just...fall into it, and it becomes mesmerizing, you feel like you've always been there. Fincher denotes the passage of time in chyrons denoting hours or days or weeks or months or even years that go by between cuts, and the film constantly reminds you that time keeps passing and the Zodiac is still out there and he could kill at any time. It starts to become exhausting, like TIME MARCHES ON WE GET IT, but it's so very intentional that Fincher specifically calls out how much time is passing instead of only giving you dates and/or times and forcing you to do the math to keep up. There aren't a lot of flashy visuals most of the time, yet you can feel the confidence in every frame and camera movement. There's a real sense of purpose as Fincher is bringing Vanderbilt's screenplay to life. Structurally, the film is strange in that it seems like it's actually all building up to the third act—or second half?? time loses all meaning in this movie—of Gyllenhaal falling apart and getting close to solving the case, and maybe it could have gotten there faster without QUITE so many detours (and maybe it could have done some actual work developing the relationship between Gyllenhaal and Chloë Sevigny that becomes so crucial to the emotional underpinnings of that section). But the real-life case is a fucking messy, unresolved nightmare, so Fincher sure nailed that. Plus it's a murderer's row of great character actors. And great movie stars! Jake Gyllenhaal is so fucking good in this, and I love that the funniest line in the damn movie was an ad-lib. The film is doing a lot, and while it jumps around between thematic concerns and plot points and character focus, it doesn't feel disjointed, per se, but it does feel like it's not connecting the dots for maximum impact, like it's missing some really clear throughline for me to have my socks knocked clean off. But even so, goddamn, I now understand why people who really love this sort of movie really love this movie.

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