Year Released: 2007
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr.
(R, 156 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspence
"It is the brain, the little grey cells on which we must rely." Hercule Poirot
This search for California’s infamous serial killer has just the right amount of storytelling art mixed with gritty police detection. A masterpiece of understatement, it focuses on the dogged pursuers as they follow incomplete clues and cryptic messages taunting their very souls long after the killings end.
The film is based on two non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith, a one time political cartoonist employed by the San Francisco Chronicle when the self-described Zodiac killer began sending his encrypted confessions to it in the late 1960’s.
The film opens with the July 4th, 1969, killing he describes in his coded message. It is a balmy night, and the isolated parking lot has just the privacy for a flirtatious 22 year-old and her 19 year-old companion. In the background we hear the haunting “Hurdy Gurdy Man” as a car parks beside them. Of course, all those lovers’ lane urban legends come to mind as the single man gets out and approaches their car. He shoots each several times before speeding off.
A second killing happens in broad daylight as two college students picnic on the shores of a small lake. The hooded man who approaches them claims he only intends to take their car and money, but after he has tied them up, he stabs them both. We know the details of both of these events because in each case, the male has lived to tell about it.
While the casual brutality of both of these killings repulses us, Fincher’s presentation is brisk and fairly straight forward, without the melodramatic and drawn out gruesome anticipation we more often encounter. Instead, his approach to these grisly murders is mature and restrained, which makes their heinous nature stand by itself without any puffed up cinematic posturing.
Most of his focus is on the nitty gritty details of finding the enigmatic killer, and he does so by concentrating on four individuals. With a uniformly excellent script and acting, each becomes a fully realized presence, but without the over the top, bigger than life personalities of the recent The Departed or the soap opera quality imposed upon the detectives in The Black Dahlia. Compare, for instance Josh Harnett’s Black Dahlia cop – square jawed under his creased Fedora, a leather shoulder holster next to his muscled frame - to Mark Ruffalo’s Inspector Toschi in Zodiac.
Toschi wears the shoulder holster, too, but with him, it doesn’t seem like dress-up. We don’t suspect washboard abs under his shirt, and his plaid pants and bow ties are not exactly GQ. The woman who shares his bed is usually sound asleep as he fields a midnight phone call summoning him to a case, unlike the more graphic and glamorized bedroom liaisons of his film noir buddies. His partner, Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), keeps his glove compartment filled with animal crackers, Toschi’s preferred comfort food, and ponders the mystery of sushi, all the while diligently following up leads and enticing clues, most of which go nowhere.
Over at The San Francisco Chronicle two others are drawn in. One is crime reporter Paul Avery, who Richard Roper so aptly describes as “a brilliant, rebellious, self-destructive manic-depressive drug addict/alcoholic who is his own worst enemy.” Is it any wonder that Robert Downey Jr. seems born to play the part and does so with sly relish and ironic self awareness. He unearths a prior murder possibly connected to Zodiac, and shows some real courage is meeting his anonymous tipster in a deserted factory that just screams “Stay Out!” to any sensible man.
But the one who is really hooked on the Zodiac case is the shy cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) a former Eagle Scout who has always been intrigued with puzzles. As only the truly obsessed can, he ferrets out clues buried in the police files of the four different jurisdictions involved, and races down a rainy night anonymous tip that makes Avery’s encounter seem like a day at the park.
Like the real life case, which is officially still open, there is not a clear cut solution that comes tied up in a bow. Instead, the tentative hypothesis is wrapped in plain butcher paper, and the string that ties it is worn and ragged. But as a work of art, Zodiac is beautiful and complete.
Cynical crime reporter Paul Avery cannot not seem to get away from the curious gaze of his paper’s shy cartoonist who pokes through his trash for any news of the infamous Zodiac. He finally decides to take the former Eagle Scout for a drink.
Robert Graysmith’s beverage is a fancy blue concoction, complete with a little paper umbrella. Of course Avery disparages this choice, dubbed appropriately “Aqua Velva,” until Graysmith coaxes him to sample it. The two end up discussing the Zodiac into the wee hours of the morning as their cozy table fills with empty vestiges of the blue wonders.
Now you too can make this stunning cocktail named after the popular after shave. In fact, I’ve found out that many a sailing man used to drink the real thing, which boasted a 40% alcohol measure. I don’t think theirs had any paper umbrellas, though.
Aqua Velva Cocktail
“The blue Auqua Velva Cocktail that Jake Gyllenhaal's character orders is named after a popular after shave lotion of a similar color. The drink consists of vodka, gin, blue curaçao and Sprite or 7-Up. (Today you might even be able to get away with Sierra Mist.) Some variations also include rum and tequila. And perhaps, a sprig of mint or an orange slice. Other recipes call for Baileys Irish Cream (for that foggy look, I guess). And still one other is made of tequila, blue curaçao, and fruit juices. It's not necessarily as frou-frou as it seems in the movie (with those fancy glasses, umbrellas, maraschino cherries and all): In WWII, US sailors were said to drink it for its alcohol content (which has since been reduced). A little soapy, perhaps (ingredients: Alcohol 40, water, glycerin, fragrance, menthol), but it went down smooth, evidently...” Jim Emerson
3/4 oz. vodka
3/4 oz. gin
1/4 oz. Sprite
1/2 oz blue curaçao
1/2 oz. Sprite
Shake vodka, gin, blue curaçao and Sprite with ice. Pour/strain into glass and top off with Sprite. Cocktail umbrella and fruit/mint garnish optional.
Recipe Source: cocktailblender.com