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Preview: Film Noir of the Week

Film Noir of the Week

Last Build Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2016 09:22:26 PDT


Zodiac (2007)

Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:00:43 PDT

“Just because you can’t prove it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”Few serial killers afflicted more fear in their time than the Zodiac. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the elusive murderer wreaked havoc on Northern California, racking up countless victims and taunting local press with clue-ridden cyphers. Whether hinting at his motives or threatening to “pick off kiddies as they come bouncing out” of a school bus, these submissions to the San Francisco Chronicle induced national terror– a mythos that surpassed nearly every serial killer before or since. But despite the efforts of Chronicle reporters, conspiracy theorists, and the police, his true identity was never discovered. It is a mystery that, to this day, remains a mecca for true crime enthusiasts.David Fincher was no stranger to Zodiac lore. The director spent his childhood in San Anselmo during the initial killings, and was one of the aforementioned ‘kiddies’ who recalls his bus being escorted by Highway Patrol. As a young boy, he had come to see the serial killer as “the ultimate boogeyman”; a morbid fascination that ultimately drew him to the Zodiac project in 2005. Along with screenwriter James Vanderbilt, the exacting filmmaker felt it was his job to deconstruct the serial killer myth and make a clear distinction between fact and gestating fiction. Months were spent interviewing eyewitnesses, officers, and surviving victims, while police reports and the photography of Stephen Shore were researched for period recreation. By the time they sat down with SFPD Inspector Dave Toschi and Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (whose 1986 book inspired the film), the duo managed to inform the case experts of facts even they were unaware of.David Fincher and Mark Ruffalo on the set.As a result, Zodiac is a movie spilling over with information: locations, suspects, red herrings, and victims. Put in the rare situation of telling a story with undefined structure, Fincher and Vanderbilt take the narrative path less traveled and construct a methodical, densely layered account. Timestamps mark each scene so punctiliously it’s almost silly, while also forming a pace for the viewer that feels akin to a pricey episode of Cold Case Files. This procedural air calls to mind classic docu-noir like He Walked By Night (1948) and The Sniper (1952), but Fincher’s fetichism for the facts elevates Zodiac to levels previously untapped in the annals of serial killer cinema. In the words of A.V. Club critic Scott Tobias, it is “an obsessive movie about the nature of obsession.”This trait is established in breathtaking scope through the opening sequence. Dated July 4th 1969, Fincher coasts the camera down a Vallejo street that oozes suburban bliss. Children twirling sparklers, Americana fireworks, and the tune “Easy to Be Hard” glide into view, while looming dread hangs somewhere offscreen. Darlene Ferrin (Ciara Hughes) and Michael Mageau (Lee Norris) park in isolation, but the privacy they seek is instantly cut down by the gunfire of the unseen Zodiac. Shot by cinematographer Harris Savides, these attacks (and the several that follow) are given a disturbing sense of intimacy– short, violent bursts that bear more in common with real crime scenes than most moviegoers are accustomed to seeing.The film’s nocturnal artwork.Fincher unveils each murder with similar panache, perhaps in part to make up for the fact that the rest of Zodiac is spent on nuts-and-bolts investigation. The unrewarding task falls to three core pursuers: Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), the boy scout out of his depth, Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), the cop who inspired Steve McQueen’s character in Bullitt (1968), and Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.), a boozer who receives a death threat from the Zodiac. Clues and promising leads are frequent in these early years, so much so that Fincher uses another real life account, All the President's Men [...]

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