Dandy Cat

Title Card: Zodiac (2007)

The title card for Zodiac.

Zodiac was written by James Vanderbilt and directed by David Fincher. It was released in 2007. The film was produced by Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and Phoenix Pictures. The titles were designed by Eric Ladd and Bruce Schluter.

Set primarily in San Francisco and spanning several decades, Zodiac tells the frightening story of a string of horrific serial murders that were perpetrated throughout Northern California.1 The Zodiac Killer is a still unidentified serial killer who operated throughout the late ‘60s, spreading uncertainty, paranoia, and fear. The film follows Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a political cartoonist and one of the foremost authorities on the Zodiac Killer. His relentless investigation, helped along by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery, played by Robert Downey Jr., and Inspector David Toschi, played by Mark Ruffalo, steadily brings the killer out of the darkness and into the public. While never identified or caught, the Zodiac Killer and his crimes have devastating effects on both the people who are chasing him and the city of San Francisco itself.

For my money, this is still David Fincher’s best work.2 It’s hard to find much fault in its storytelling, its visual style, or its performances. It’s one of those rare films that was made by an entire production crew that was firing on all cylinders all the time, as they say. And yet, it’s not spoken of with the same adoration that’s afforded to Fight Club or The Social Network. Those are both fine movies, The Social Network especially, but Zodiac so captures a time and mood that watching it feels like living during the harrowing years it depicts. It’s a rare thing to witness a film that is so of its time. Fincher is an exacting and demanding director. He may even be relentless to the point of assholery, but damn is he able to tell a story that envelops you, that holds you, and that can entertain you while also shocking you to your core.

There’s a moment in the film when Robert Graysmith visits a man named Bob Vaughn, played by Charles Fleischer, a silent film organist. Vaughn had once worked with a projectionist named Rick Marshall. Graysmith had previously been tipped off that Marshall was the Zodiac. The clues surrounding Marshall are soon attributed to Vaughn by the man himself, shortly before he invites Graysmith to follow him into his dimly lit basement to look for evidence that could provide a valuable link to the Zodiac. Graysmith descends into the dark, and we are given a scene that still frightens me every time I see it. I know what’s going to happen, and yet I feel my chest tighten whenever Graysmith sets his trembling feet on those creaky stair steps. Enjoy, in all its creepy glory. 🎞

  1. And possibly even Southern California. There is a potential link between the Zodiac Killer and Cheri Jo Bates, who was found murdered on the grounds of Riverside City College where she was also a student. It’s always surreal to consider that a school you used to attend was also the site of a grisly murder, made famous by the notoriety of its potential perpetrator. Whenever I drive by the campus, I feel a small chill deep down inside of me. ↩︎

  2. This isn’t something I’m going to argue with anyone over, but not for the reason that may suggest. I believe that David Fincher has crafted a staggering body of work (except for, perhaps, Alien 3). Any one of his films is worthy of being his best, or at least, someone’s favorite. Zodiac just so happens to be my preferred Fincher film. ↩︎