Sunday, January 20, 2008


We watched Zodiac last night. I happen to be a big fan of true crime stories, period dramas, and the city of San Francisco, so I knew that I was going to enjoy this film even if it wasn't all that good. Since I've already disclosed my biases, I'll rely on Michelle's surprisingly positive assessment of the movie to confirm that it is, in fact, a great film. If I have anything bad to say about the movie, it's that I found all of the main characters so likable. All true crime dramas have a fairly obvious villain, but I felt that there was an unrealistic lack of tension between the "good guys", which made it hard to play favorites. Of course, it's possible that this was a realistic portrayal of the three main characters.

Robert Graysmith (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a political cartoonist who becomes obsessed with trying to find the killer. Graysmith is bookish and socially awkward and appears at first much too naive to be a political cartoonist, but his intelligence and earnestness prove to be valuable assets as he investigates the killings. Robert Downey Jr. plays Paul Avery, a crime reporter at the same newspaper as Greysmith who is as cynical and flamboyant as Greysmith is earnest and austere. The two men, however, form an unlikely bond over their search for the killer. The third character is David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), the San Francisco homicide detective who is investigating the case. He frequently crosses swords with Avery and Graysmith during the investigation, but the dust always settles pretty quickly.

The movie made me think about how the phenomenon of serial killing is a creation of mass media. Serial killers have probably been around forever, but without mass media to spread the news of their exploits, they don't really exist in the minds of the populace. It also made me think about how no serial killers that I know of have used new media to publicize themselves. A modern zodiac killer could have posted his ciphers to the internet directly instead of sending them to newspapers. All of this makes me think that our notion of how serial killers operate may be somewhat obsolete. In a world of blogging, camera phones, DNA forensics, and 24 hour news, can a killer really commit a string of murders while taunting the public with a string of threats, clues, and missives without getting captured fairly quickly?

The soundtrack was unremarkable, except for the opening scene which employed Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man in a way that will change forever the way I hear that song.

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