Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Ten Films Of The Decade: Number 3: Zodiac

“He offed a few citizens and faded into a footnote“

Zodiac is many things. A startling meditation about the nature of memory, time and evil. The way the first fades thanks to the second washing the third away, leaving only the scars. This is the movie that proved David Fincher a stylist par excellence by focusing him, after the empty flailing of Panic Room. This is a movie that turned the dumbest hippy song ever written into a bone chilling reminder of mortality and harbinger of evil. As a cinematic achievement (if not capturer of the cultural zeitgeist) it’s superior to Fight Club.

The film plays like nothing you would expect, particularly when you consider Se7en, which I think is just about as good of a serial killer movie as you can make (a dubious honor to be sure but I do consider it superior even to Silence Of The Lambs). The thing about Zodiac is its not a serial killer movie. Oh there’s a serial killer in it, and he certainly murder’s people. But its not his presence that’s frightening but his absense. He’s like a little tear in the fabric of the universe that every once in awhile opens up and swallows people whole.

The genius of the film is the way it doesn’t allow you to be sure of the validity of anything. The Zodiac basically disapear’s a half hour into the movie. And the one time he does maybe show up again “for sure” (And there’s no film in which those two words have less meaning) the movie goes out of its way to cast doubt on the validity of his appearance. It doesn’t matter if you objectively see him threaten to throw a baby out the window. We can be sure of nothing, least of all what we see.
What Zodiac really does though is capture the merciless passing of time. The way today’s tragedy becomes tomorrow’s curiosity for nutty obsessives and the next day’s blockbuster. Odd that a movie in which several brutal murders are shown in graphic detail, the most disturbing shot is a time lapse view of a skyscraper being built.

Fincher’s style really is at a career best here. By laying off the “fancy shots” that he’s built his career on (aside for some highly appropriate God’s Eye View bits that can induce vertigo), he emerges as an unlikely formalist master with beautifully composed shots that manage to not be about themselves.

With mesmerizing performances by Jake Gyllenhall, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. (In a role that coupled with his performances in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Scanner Darkly really brought him back) As Men who are murdered by the Zodiac Killer to one degree or another, even if they aren’t killed (Also of note Brian Cox in a note perfect cameo, Dan Heyeda, and Chloe Sevingy in a rare role that doesn’t make me want to take out my eyes with knitting needles).

The discussion with Clea Duvall, providing so many answers while obscuring so many others proves the heart of the movie. Showing the very human wreckage Paired with the sequence where the we catch up with the victim from the first sequence of the film. Old worn, with dark circles around his eyes. The film’s message becomes clear. By vaguely hinting at it, Fincher showcases the damage the Zodiac left behind much more thoroughly then he ever could with a case by case basis. We realize that even with how thorough the movie was (and at this point Fincher is down right Kubrickian in his compulsion to Catch. Every. Detail.) the film can never can never even begin to encompass the damage the man has done. The murders where the least of it, it’s the way, to quote Joe Hill, “that the dead drag the living down.” Miring the rest of their lives in tragedy, doomed with the knowledge that a safe and happy life is a fragile thing, and with the knowledge that its all too easy for others to move past it.

Oh and sweet Jesus those where some terrifying squirrels.

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