Monday, May 18, 2015

Notes on Zodiac: Exposition & Detective Stories


"Whoever this is, you owe me another lamp."

I had this on in the background while I worked from home today (living the dream) so I won't be doing a full-fledged review as I wasn't able to spare as much attention as I usually like to. So yes, I owe you all another review; although, with an intricately designed film like this, you're much more likely just to get another lamp. Instead, here's a peek behind the scenes at some of my raw, unorganized thoughts on the film (edited into complete sentences from my nonsensical scribblings):

- The movie is like a love letter to exposition. This is the counter-example people should bring up when talking about movies like Interstellar. The majority of the drama in Zodiac revolves around characters learning and processing new information. Particularly once the film shifts about halfway through from the Chronicle's perspective to Jake Gyllenhaal's, most of what follows is him running around looking for new information and trying to put it all together. Of course, the reason why it works here and (arguably) not in Interstellar is because we're already so deeply entrenched in Gyllenhaal's anxious, driven, neurotic character that the close-ups of his face as he furiously calculates his data give us more than (for example) the close up on Anne Hathaway as she explains her reasoning behind choosing Planet X over Planet Y.

- Having finally seen All the President's Men since the last time I saw this, that movie seems like the primary influence on this one. And it's not just that Zodiac is set in the time period in which President's was filmed; the narrative structure in general feels the same (following a popular news story from within the news media of the time, although Zodiac moves beyond this an enters the realm of journalistic vigilantism). Some of the sets and shots inside the San Francisco Chronicle look like they walked straight in from Pakula's masterpiece. The primary differences are, of course, Fincher's signature desaturated color palette, and—more interestingly—the fact that the topic is shifted from a corrupt president to a serial killer. Do with that association what you will.

- I don't remember the film's conclusion being so clear cut. Fincher likes his cliffhangers—not in the sense of trying to establish sequels or franchises, but rather of simply leaving the audience on the hook—and this doesn't really have one. I won't ruin anything, but we have a pretty solid idea of who the Zodiac killer is by the end of the story. Of course, it never gives us any concrete, definitive confirmation, but the one remaining option seems pretty uncontested. Maybe that small margin of doubt is all we need, though.

- Speaking of the ending, I'm not sure why we need anything after Gyllenhaal's final close up. The obligatory "this was based on real life" explanation of what happened to everyone felt particularly unnecessary.

- I can see why some people find this boring, but I thoroughly disagree. I can't even say it's longer than I want it to be, and it's a long movie.

- Definitely one of Jake Gyllenhaal's best performances, although I'm still blown away by his work with Denis Villeneuve. Can't wait for Nightcrawler.

David Fincher | Jake Gyllenhaal
Digital Cinematography

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