Movie Talk: Zodiac

zodiac_posterGreg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi returned to the movie scene this weekend. It was a weak weekend for the big screen, so the duo decided to watch the 2007 film, Zodiac. Here are their thoughts. Click here to visit previous “Movie Talks”, or find the appropriate tab at the top of the page.

VG: Well Greg, Zodiac is a movie that I had been meaning to watch for a very long time and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The film, directed by David Fincher (we’ll get to him later), stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, who are each somewhat independently, somewhat cooperatively attempting to track down the Zodiac killer, an individual who commits multiple murders across several years in San Francisco (based off of true events).

Zodiac grabbed me from the very beginning and never let go. Like Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), I became obsessed with finding out the identity of the Zodiac, and although the film runs 157 minutes, the long run time felt necessary. The case spread across decades and the film doesn’t shy away from showing every detail, which allows the audience the opportunity to relate to the central characters’ frustrations and triumphs. I had high expectations for this movie Greg and it exceeded them. What are you general thoughts?

GK: I will admit that before you mentioned watching Zodiac, I didn’t really have a desire to see the movie. It never sparked my interest, but that’s mostly due to a general ignorance of the movie itself. You did a solid job hyping it up, which raised my expectations from ‘passing interest’ to ‘general desire to see it’.

I liked it, but I don’t think I liked it nearly as much as you did. It’s an interesting concept and fantastic story to follow, given how public the Zodiac was back in the late 60’s/early 70’s. It’s fascinating to take a step into the lives of the main players involved in finding this guy, specifically those working at the San Francisco Chronicle (notably Robert Downey Jr.’s and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters), and even more gripping to see the struggle Mark Ruffalo had to go through while trying to coordinate his investigation with, at times, three other departments.

However, I found myself having a hard time wrapping my head around just how much time was constantly passing. We were getting snap shots of little events that were necessary to paint the whole picture, but those were also happening months apart, and sometimes years apart. There are also times where we just lose track of some of the main players completely. There’s at least a 45-minute portion to the movie where we never see Downey Jr. or Gyllenhaal at all, or know what they’re doing during the same time from the police are investigating the crime. I understood the need to focus on specific characters at certain points and put the emphasis on those characters. But, to drop characters from the landscape of the film completely for significant portions at a time, that seemed odd.

You mentioned David Fincher, and if that names sounds familiar to casual movie goers, you’ll know him as the director from movies such as Se7en, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, just to name a few. This had the feel of a very Fincher movie to me, as in it’s a movie that chronicles the lives of characters over a much longer period of time than a normal movie can normally bridge. While I didn’t necessarily always enjoy skipping weeks/months/years at a time in Zodiac, I at least knew where I was at all times. What did you like specifically about Fincher’s directorial style in this movie?

VG: First of all, Fincher’s track record is one of the more impressive one’s you’ll come across. He doesn’t really have a stinker in the bunch (at least of the ones I’ve seen) and that’s not something that most directors can say.

For this movie in particular, I appreciated Fincher’s ability to capture the tone. Obviously a movie with this subject matter is going to be dark, but Fincher presents a dark movie visually too, in terms of color scheme, and I think it just adds to the overall effect of the movie. Also, for a movie that for the most part lacks action, Fincher delivers one of the most tense scenes in recent memory when Graysmith is in the basement of someone’s house who may or may not be the Zodiac. Just overall, I felt like Zodiac was gripping from a storytelling and visual standpoint, and it’s really difficult for a movie to capture both this well.

Switching gears just a little bit Greg, this is Fincher’s lowest-grossing film in his career, despite meeting generally positive reviews (89% on Rotten Tomatoes), and it sort of feels that way to me, too. Since my viewing, I’ve talked to several other people about Zodiac and it turns out that not that many people have really seen it. Why do you think that is? Is the subject matter too dark? Does it hit too close to home for some? Is it the runtime? What are you thoughts?

GK: I think it’s a combination of circumstances. The run time certainly doesn’t help. When you get towards the end, there are parts in the movie where it feels like a two-hour, 37-minute adventure. Some people just don’t want to be that emotionally invested into a movie for that long if it isn’t a subject matter that they can relate with.

The second, it would be an interesting study in how the movie was promoted. We’ve seen recently that some movies have simply flown under the radar because of poor press beforehand (most notable with That Awkward Moment, though that’s a completely different movie in terms of subject matter). 2007 was a pretty loaded year in terms of movies that came out. Zodiac was actually the 19th-highest rated movie that year according to IMDB viewers, ahead of more popular movies like Sweeny Todd, I Am Legend, Charlie Wilson’s War and Ratatouille. 2007 also brought us heavy hitters like Knocked Up, Superbad, Transformers, No Country For Old Men and Enchanted, just to name a few. Zodiac also had the odd release date of the first weekend in March, which traditionally, isn’t a very popular time to see a new movie if I’m not mistaken.

Zodiac clearly had the big names to carry a movie, and the performances were very good, if not bordering great. Is it possible that it just came out at the wrong time in the wrong year, considering all the other movies that were surrounding it, both Oscar candidates and box office blockbusters?

VG: The release date certainly feels odd and I’m sure that didn’t do it any favors. A later release date could have led to an Oscar nomination, which would have lead to re-releases, which of course would have led to more money. Oh well.

Overall, as a piece taking place in a specific period of time and covering true events, Zodiac is a movie that will never feel dated and is one I can see myself returning to five, 10 or 20 years down the line and still getting enjoyment out of it. I mentioned to you after watching it that it might have jumped in to my top 10 movies all of time. I still feel that way, though if i were to make an actual list I’m not sure exactly where it would fall. You mentioned that you didn’t like it quite as much as I did — which is fine, I’ll allow it — but how would you rate it overall? Is it a movie you’d go back and watch again or is too long for a repeat viewing?

GK: To me, it’s not a movie that would crack my top 10, but my top 10 is a hot mess. Zodiac is long, so I need some time to absorb what I’ve seen and even more time before I sit down and see it again. It’s length makes it nearly impossible to re-watch on cable somewhere, so it would have to be a movie I seek out to watch, which puts it a few pegs down on my list.

It’s a very good movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to a friend with similar movie tastes as mine. I wouldn’t come close to how highly you rated it, mostly going back my original point of the movie stretching years upon years in mere minutes and losing track of some of it’s own characters in the story (I think you would agree that Gyllenhaal is the main character, but we go at least 1/4 of the movie at one time without seeing him or knowing what the hell he’s doing).

It’s a very David Fincher movie, and that’s always interesting to watch. However, it’s not better than some of his other works that we’ve seen in the past.