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'Zodiac' is an excellent true-crime film

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Zodiac

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To date, this column has focused on fictional serial killers. David Fincher, who directed “Se7en,” reviewed yesterday, also directed 2007’s “Zodiac,” which is based on a disturbing series of actual murders that captured the public’s attention for several years.

Zodiac” is set in the San Francisco Bay Area and begins in the 1960s when the Zodiac killer begins his murder spree by attacking a young couple. Shortly after this, Robert Graysmith (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, becomes fascinated by encrypted letters the killer sends after his crimes. He is able to make more progress with the codes than anyone else. The increasingly obsessed Robert befriends Paul Avery (played by Robert Downey Jr.), a crime reporter who is also overly engaged in the case. Their inability to let go of the case causes Paul to develop alcohol and drug dependencies, while Robert’s family eventually leaves him. Also involved are Inspectors David Toschi (played by Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (played by Anthony Edwards). As the years go by, the Zodiac kills more people, and he is not apprehended. After the crimes appear to stop, Robert continues his hunt and eventually writes a book about the case.

After watching the fictionalized serial killer movies reviewed earlier this week “Zodiac” is a great reminder of the reality of the criminal world. Whereas fictional cops and reporters often find and punish the murderers, in real life it is much more complicated and, sometimes, questions remain unanswered indefinitely. “Zodiac” documents the tediousness of authentic police investigations. The movie gives a lot of details about the case, such as who some of the victims were and who some of the suspects were. We see the killer’s personality as well; he apparently likes to have his writings in the newspaper.

Jake Gyllenhaal is sublime in the lead role. We see how obsessed he becomes with writing his book, and how that damages his relationship with his family. Robert Downey Jr. is also strong as Paul, who becomes more of an addict as the story moves on. Another impressive performance is by Chloe Sevigny, who plays Robert’s wife, who worries about her family’s safety.

“Zodiac” is a great film, and it is well-worth watching for people who are interested in true crime stories.

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