Directed by one of my favourites, this film weaves an intricate mystery thriller that unfolds in such a methodical way that it seems almost like clockwork. the editing is very clean. It is more than a mystery or gory film, it’s an intellectual movie that delves into the psychological make-up of serial killings and the people involved in them.
The obsession with solving the mystery takes over one of the main characters, Robert Graysmith, and he pursues the case like a dog with a scent. This character is played by Jake Gyllenhaal who is a cartoonist in the movie. Mystery thrillers always need a character like this who does not give up and is in relentless pursuit of who committed the crimes. This is how they get absorbed in the movie by representing all their desires for truth and bringers of justice into an unassuming do-gooder.
David Fincher has such clean editing and perfect shots for this film. One particular scene with the shooting of Mageau and Ferrin in the beginning was shot from above. It was almost like God watching the events unfolding. A sense of helplessness is derived as the audience is taken farther away from the crime and can do nothing but watch them suffer. the other scene that featured the two victims shot in slow motion and up close also gave that particular a personal touch. A different kind of helplessness takes over the viewers. As if there is no escape from the manic killer.
The film has several dichotomies of a single emotion. There are always glimpses of hope that diminished by a single line. When the three police officers interviewed Arthur Leigh Allan, there were so many evidences stacked up against him. You can assume that he was the killer and that the mystery would be solved. But one line that put that spark of hope out was when their captain announced that his handwriting did not match the letters’. The build up towards this moment is so great that those few lines of dialogue seem anti-climactic. Where the film reaches its peak, there is always something that drags it back down.
Another kind of frustration experienced here is how Graysmith’s wife leaves him and takes the kids away. We see how this need to solve it possessed him and consequently, made him neglect his family. Questions of “is it worth it?” constantly come up especially at the very end where we find out that the mystery is still unsolved until now. It was the frustrating fact that no proper justice was served and no one paid the price.
Known for his downbeat endings, David Fincher ends the film with a written narration of what happened after. Saying that the police officers dies, the case is still open, and that none of the suspects were convicted for Zodiac’s crimes just makes you feel like everyone’s work on it had been in vain. The film does not exist to please the audience with feel-good endings but it stimulates them into thinking that in real life, villains can have their cake and eat it too.