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Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards and Chloë Sevigny
Screenplay by James Vanderbilt
Based upon the book by Robert Graysmith
Directed by David Fincher

IN SHORT: A gripping sit. [Rated R for some strong killings, language, drug material and brief sexual images. 160 minutes]

In the years before DNA technology made hunting maniacs a wee bit easier than before, both the east and west coasts of this great land were stalked by their own set of murdering maniacs. Son of Sam here in New York. The Hillside Strangler in Los Angeles and, as subject of this film, the police-taunting Zodiac killer in the San Francisco Bay area. Long time readers noting the two hour forty minutes run time and thinking, "well, that must've killed Cranky's back..." thanks for the thoughts and, no, it didn't. David Fincher's film goes sailing by, its attack and kill sequences shock and disturb, its finger-pointing makes an audience mumble in disbelief when the pre-end credits roll of "whatever happened to..." rolls by. We'll explain that in a sentence or two.

For t hose born after the times of localized serial killers, the man calling himself "Zodiac" was unique. He confounded police by committing his crimes across county lines in a time when policemen were he-men and didn't share information with each other. Making the situation worse, and even creepier. Zodiac sent letters to the local newspapers describing his crimes and boasting of the incompetent local constabulary. At the San Francisco Chronicle, reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) set out to track the killer while, quietly and in the background, political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) did the same. We're condensing time here.

Zodiac sent his initial messages in code -- murder was just a game to him. In those messages were carefully hidden clues to his identity. No police figured them out. Chronicle readers -- Zodiac demanded that his cyphers be published -- did. And that intern Graysmith? Elevated to a full timer he continued to work the case in his spare time.

Over the run of years that Zodiac surfaced or hid, Avery would fall down the well of drug and alcohol abuse; Graysmith would court and marry and father kids with the lovely Melanie (Chloë Sevigny), until his obsession with the case got in the way of a happy ending. Actually, obsession with Zodiac would take its toll on civilian and police detective alike. Of those who begin the chase -- Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Inspector William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), at least one will quit the beat.

Of the various suspects you will see on screen, we will only credit the man Graysmith believed to be the killer, one Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch), a pedophile whose short prison stay neatly coincided with an absence of communications or killings. There are other possibilities you'll see in this story. At least one will put you on your seat's edge, assuming you have a still-working circulatory system.

There are thousands of bits of information available on this case. Graysmith already has two best sellers to his credit as, and you see the reasons for this up close, only he and Avery had access to every bit.

Simply put, Zodiac is an enthralling sit. One which makes you, or at least us, want to rewind to double check on some element that had passed on screen minutes before. In our book, that makes this a rental. We're gonna give it higher marks because, well, enthralling is enthralling. (that, and our back didn't hate it <g>)

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Zodiac, he would have paid . . .


SPOILERS: (scroll over to read) The obvious finger pointing at Arthur Leigh Allen turned out to be wishful thinking. DNA testing of tissue did not match DNA taken from saliva samples on the Zodiac letters.

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, , Melvin Belli (Brian Cox), Sgt. Jack Mulanax (Elias Koteas), Ken Naarlow (Donal Logue), , Captain Marty Lee (Dermot Mulroney)

it just goes to show that in any murder case (we) really need that "you'e under arrest" bit to make the satisfying emotional circuit. Same reason I didn't care for From Hell last year. Once the (obvious) suspect was revealed and just-about confirmed, I wanted to go back and look at the reasons for the questioning. Sorry, that makes Zodiac a rental in my book

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.