Yes, the return of Mr. Jake Gyllenhaal- a perfect cause for celebration. After a year long absence from the big screen (which is frankly too long), Jake is back with another impressive performance in an equally great film to add to his resume.
Zodiac, in a nutshell, is about San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) who, over the course of many years, becomes increasingly obsessed with finding the identity of the Zodiac serial killer who may or may not have killed six victims and threatened much more during the 60’s and 70’s. Reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) starts reporting the case, but eventually succumbs to alcohol and drugs and loses his job. Inspector Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Inspector Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) work on the case as soon as it hits San Francisco, but after awhile it starts to consume their lives prompting Armstrong to quit after a few years and Toschi to become bitter about never finding the killer.
Going into the film, I thought about two things: I sure hope this two and a half hour film doesn’t suck because that could be deadly on my ass and If they never solved the Zodiac killings, how are they going to end this film? Well, in response to the first thought, the film never feels like it is two and a half hours. It moves by at such a quick pace and everything is laid out with such intelligence and finesse that at the end you almost wish there was more. As for the second thought, Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt wrap everything up into a tidy little conclusion that doesn’t officially solve the case, but still makes it feel like an ending.
The performances from the cast are truly a marvel to see. Robert Downey, Jr., as breezy and hilarious as ever, gives another fantastic performance in a role that has him drudge up old demons- making his demise even more authentic and pathetic at the same time. Mark Ruffalo is given a stereotypical part (hard-boiled cop doing whatever it takes to catch his man) and runs with it, showing us something we rarely see- a look at an officer who doesn’t solve the case and isn’t made out to be a hero at the end.
And then there’s Jake Gyllenhaal as eternal “Eagle scout” (he points that out in one part of the film) Robert Graysmith. In what could have been a throw-away performance, Gyllenhaal makes Graysmith a real character in the drama of the Zodiac killings. It is in him and his social awkwardness that we, initially, get some comic relief in the film as in when he first goes to the bar with Avery, who is enjoying some kind of hard liquor, and starts drinking an Aqua Velva (with an umbrella!) and proceeds to tell him that once you drink one, you’ll never want anything else. But it is afterwards when that awkwardness becomes fear (I’ll never forget the way he says a line as simple as “It’s locked” when he gets trapped in a creepy man’s house) and obsession (His spilling coffee onto the files and then telling his wife that he doesn’t want his kids to see him the way he is right now) that he truly becomes a character. Jake Gyllenhaal is the only actor I can imagine who could have played this role and nailed both the comedic timing and dramatic pathos brilliantly (All I could think of while watching this film was why he doesn't do that many comedies because he would be great if he found the right one). It’s a shame that this is the type of performance that Oscar ignores come awards season time (it will be dismissed as a genre performance in a genre picture, the performance isn’t baity at all and he might get lost among Downey, Ruffalo, Edwards and Brian Cox), because Gyllenhaal definitely deserves a second nomination.
Overall, Zodiac is a fantastic film with great performances, an interesting and intelligent script and visuals like nothing other (snaps for cinematographer Harris Savides). It’s a film that can stand on it’s own with a single viewing and still last up against repeated viewings. I personally can not wait for the DVD release so I can watch and enjoy this film again.
My Rating: **** 1/2