Zodiac - A Haunting Suspense Thriller From David Fincher

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Zodiac, from Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros film, a haunting true life murder mystery thriller, is frighteningly consuming and delivers, with every passing minute, heightened engrossing suspense. 

Directed by David Fincher, Zodiac,  opens July 4, 1969, two years after the San Francisco’s Summer of Love, with an immediate heightened sense of expectation with cherry bombs exploding, sparklers whizzing and firecrackers popping you know trouble is around the corner. The characters retreat to seclusion and the Zodiac appears.

Robert Downey Jr. is back with another excellent performance as Paul Avery, crime beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and eventual target of the Zodiac killer. Downey embodies a young hotshot reporter in the late 1960's in a city known as the birthplace of the Hippie Movement, The Haight, and The Grateful Dead.

The murders go largely unnoticed by the national press until a riddle of codes using the Greek Alphabet arrives in a letter to the three major newspapers in the San Francisco area with demands and ultimatums if the demands are ignored. The letters detail the coldness of the Zodiac's mentality.

Avery became both target and victim finally falling prey to his desires to get the story and the borderline he skated with his own personal addictions. He, like all characters, eventually becomes the Zodiac's victim.

San Francisco Chronicle Cartoonist Robert Graysmith, played by Brokeback Mountain's, Jake Gyllenhaal, was tossed into the Zodiac sphere by luck of the draw. He attended an Editorial meeting and was introduced, like the others, through the letters. He, too, became consumed with Zodiac, following leads like a detective, frantic in his passions, reckless, at times, in his pursuits, enlisting every police agency involved to assist his addiction, until he eventually published a book detailing the events.

The murder scenes reflect the attitudes of a time earlier in America prior to Global Terrorism, prior to the destruction of the American ideal, prior to the see a freak get up and leave precaution that is imbedded in our brains.

Anthony Edwards’ performance, as San Francisco Police Department Inspector William Armstrong, plays true to the detailing work necessary prior to the use of DNA and other criminal sciences available today. He is paired, on-screen, with Mark Ruffalo, the animal cracker eating Inspector David Toschi, who eventually becomes central in Graysmith's pursuits. Both characters are consumed, as are all the principals, in trying to find the Zodiac.

Elias Koteas, a twin of Law and Order's Christopher Meloni, is engrossing and determined with the greatest potential of catching the Zodiac. His face is familiar and engaging as a character.

Fincher squeezed a decade long manhunt complete with a full scope picture of times, seasons and events, allowing the intelligence of the audience to be active in filling in minor details of time through external events that shaped the lives of the characters.

The characters stay true to the mental exhaustion associated with this type of all consuming investigation. Exhibiting the mental strains of knowing the identity of the main suspect and the inability to make the arrest based on the evidence available strains both their personal and professional relationships.

The most haunting character is, of course, the Zodiac, played by John Carroll Lynch. In a time when circumstantial evidence was enough and gut instinct was the rest Arthur Leigh Allen was the prime suspect and was eventually identified by a surviving victim as the shooter. This made Allen the Zodiac by his own admission. Allen died of a massive heart attack without ever being arrested for any of the murders.

There are riveting performances, almost cameo, that are deserving of mention. Iona Skye as potential Zodiac victim exhibits the trusting attitudes of the 60's and Chloe Sevigny, as Melanie the wife of Robert Graysmith, troubled by her husband's addiction.

The 160-minute running time never slips into boredom and maintains the attention of the audience. This is a must see. Be prepared, the murder scenes are graphic and random and there are brief visual homosexual references.

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