Arguably the best and most exciting part of a crime thriller is when they unravel the identity of the criminal. While he or she gets interrogated, we and the investigators are able to piece together bits of information and determine his or her motivations. We almost see this twice in Zodiac when they try to incriminate Leigh Allen, and seem to find another possible suspect, Rick Marshall. Given the leads and circumstantial evidences, we begin to believe either of these two is the killer. However, the film doesn’t provide a precise answer to our burning question. Instead, it tries to stay true to its material – Robert Graysmith’s own account of the investigation – and manages to portray the less-than-thrilling, grueling and frustrating side of criminal investigations.
David Fincher’s direction turns a dialogue-rich, almost action-less subject into a compelling tale of how one person’s crimes affect the lives of the people involved in the investigation. It is 2 1/2-hours long but it doesn’t seem excessive nor insufficient; just enough to get to know the characters well. It makes me feel that no matter how exciting this case is, with all the mysterious letters and ciphers from the Zodiac killer, it requires a tremendous amount of work. And it is monotonous at times. The choice of dark and muted colors fits the overall mood. I like how a couple of humorous dialogues appears here and there. They are far from what we would normally expect in a film that tackles probably the biggest serial killing mysteries in 60s – 70s San Francisco. The jokes are irrelevant but they are fun to hear anyway.
Zodiac has many minor characters, I often confuse Sheriff this from the other. The typewritten date at the bottom of the screen helps this time. It lets us follow the case as it progresses. It even shows how leads are scare resources, and sometimes appear only once in a span of seven or eight months.
The film is not a murder mystery/crime thriller. The latter is more concerned with the victims, his relations with the killer, and unraveling the motives behind the killings. Except for explaining Leigh Allen’s connection with first victim, Zodiac does none of these. Instead it tells how one man’s works have affected the lives of others. From a fearless journalist, Paul Avery has become a paranoid drunkard after receiving death threats from the Zodiac killer. Long after everyone has left the case, and San Francisco is already at peace, Inspector David Toschi still can’t help but hear what Graysmith has to say regarding the new evidences linking Toschi’s ‘favorite suspect’, Leigh Allen, and the murders. Graysmith is initially drawn to the ciphers but he becomes too obsessed with the idea of cracking the whole code and identify the Zodiac killer. He sets everything aside – his work and family – and goes into seclusion.
Zodiac is the closest we could get to the true-to-life mystery, and the film leaves enough space for us to decide whether or not to believe in its conclusion.