"If an actor is going to let the role come to them,
they can't resent the fact that I'm willing to wait
as long as that takes. You know, the first day of
production in San Francisco we shot 56 takes
of Mark and Jake – and it's the 56th take
that's in the movie."
David Fincher, perfectionist, and Kubrick-esque, multi-take director
I know several industry professionals who scoff at any director
that needs more than ten to fifteen takes with a well rehearsed
cast and a good crew. Yes, one can readily appreciate Steven
Spielberg's need for over seventy takes of Bruce the shark
smashing through the window of a half submerged Orca while
a very wet and exhausted Roy Scheider rams an oxygen tank
into its mouth... seventy times. Bruce was hardly Anthony
Hopkins when it came to stagecraft. There are no animatronic
sharks in Fincher's meticulously detailed Zodiac and like its star Jake Darko (I can't even read or pronounce
Gyllenhaal) I am at a loss to discover what tiny subtleties
in performance are different from one take to the next.
Is there a mystical dimension that nestles in a director's
imagination, one where his/her movie resides and the actors
have to match this vision almost, one might say, absolutely?
Then again, you have to admire the balls. Multi-taking directors
like Fincher and Kubrick could be winding us all up... not
if their films are evidence against, they're not. These
are film-makers of rare talent and are deserving of the
time and effort afforded them. Let them shoot take... after
take, after take, after take...
know those movies in your life? The ones you can revisit
time and time again and still retain an echo of the experience
you had when they first knocked you out? Sometimes repeated
viewings actually encourage fresh ideas to the forefront
of your mind. That certainly happens if the feature has
been written with care and directed with real passion. Curiously,
my favoured twenty or so are a mixed bag ranging from out
and out classics to dumb actioners all the way around to
rom-coms. For fear of violent ejection from this site's
contributors' list, I will not name any save one of these
films (my street credibility will become avenue angst if
you know what's number eight on my list). I will proudly
say that, publicly, the chosen one is Alan J. Pakula's All
The President's Men. There is nothing in that movie
(nothing) that qualifies it as a moving as in 'in motion'
picture. The spine and various ribs of the piece are conversations,
simple conversations between people, not an explosion in
sight. There is no 'action' per se. It's two guys slogging
forward because they have grasped a small trace of fibre
that when pulled at the right time will unravel the entire
US government. How Pakula managed to make a taut as taut-can-be
thriller is down to riveting historical fact, sympathetic,
unfussy direction, clever structural plotting and earnest
performances. Let's not forget the dynamic slow burn of
the screenplay, initially written and subsequently disowned
by scriptwriter William Goldman after his producer (Redford)
went behind his back and hired the real Woodward and Bernstein
to draft a – in places – fictitious script. I don't know
why this movie is so exciting to me but I'm not its only
Fincher should be well known to anyone reading anything
on a movie site with the word 'outsider' in the URL. It's
true that we've yet to review one of his movies here (if
he insists on taking so much time between projects... Zodiac is our first) but I have to say that (1) I was utterly floored
by Fight Club (the only 'Hollywood' movie
in the last decade to truly blow my socks off), (2) I reviewed Alien 3 positively (just for my own amusement
but I really did like it), (3) I loved The Game despite the ending's slight implausibilities and (4) still
champion Se7en despite being regarded by
my nearest and dearest as a sick whacko because I have seen
the movie many, many times. (5) I saw Panic Room as more of a technical exercise (it was OK but not a genuine
Fincher movie in my eyes, more like marking time and having
some fun with animating coffee pot pixels). Fincher is one
of 'those' directors, a person who takes his job very seriously
and produces meticulous work whether it's portraying a man's
life unravelling or in this case, several men's lives un-spooling
like dropped film reels on the hunt for a serial killer.
signature Fincher moments are present and correct. There
are graphics (of the serial killer's coded letters) splayed
out on police station's walls as the actors move through
them like the Ikea nesting instinct scene in Fight
Club. The digital interludes and scene settings
are so indistinguishable from reality that it's folly for
me to even suggest that they must have been shot in the
past on a camera from the future (the all-digital Viper,
a camera sans film, sans tape). The digital effects are
flawless and there are over 200 shots digitally enhanced
in the movie. Try as you might, you will not find one photographically
unreal pixel in the lot. What is starkly noticeable is Fincher's
visual style that seems to have not so much settled down
as taken out a mortgage – pray the pipe and slippers are
not the next step. He was once quoted as saying that there
were probably only two ways to shoot a scene... and "...one
of them was wrong." Fincher seems to have grown up
in the blink of a Viper's eye. He's now visually quoting
the major directors, (the Fords and Hitchcocks) anti-flaunting
and teasing out his own 'invisible technique'. To help secure
the facts of the real police cases he's dramatising, Fincher
felt it necessary not to embroider the action with directorial
flourishes. The mundanity of the staging gives credence
to the facts of the tale. Which is fine! Except when it
Yes, the style may respect the truth he's telling but in
so doing, Zodiac becomes little more than
a very standard police procedural (oh, it hurts me saying
this), one that stands or falls on the interest you have
in the real case and the believability of the actors. Fincher
is simply not at home despite some very obvious stylistic
tics – I smiled at the two very 70s logos at the start of
the movie, all scratches in place. Despite his small, wry,
casual remark on the Fight Club DVD ("if
we can only find a way of doing without the actors..."),
Fincher is extremely adept at getting great performances
from his overworked, overtaken thespians. The performances
in Zodiac are very convincing and the case
(a decade plus hunt for a serial killer who terrorised San
Francisco in the 70s) does have its moments.
his directorial skill and overwhelming stylistics do peek
out with a "Boo!", it's in the violence. The casual
and mundane bloodletting in Zodiac (three
serial killer killing moments on screen) is as straightforward
and horrific as you can imagine. I was primed for their
in-your-face nature but each of the kills has that same
nail biting intensity that so saturated the first five minutes
of Cronenberg's History of Violence. The
double stabbing is terrifying because of the extraordinarily
effective reactions, not the viewing of the blade penetrations
themselves. It was the first time in a cinema, I completely
imagined what it must be like being repeatedly stabbed.
Utterly horrific. Utterly terrifying.
case sparks the interest of San Francisco Chronicle reporter,
Paul Avery, played with an amiable, spaced out wiriness
by the master of amiable, space out wiriness, Robert Downey
Jnr. Downey is fascinated by a colleague's grasp and enthusiasm
for puzzles, the staff cartoonist played by Gyllenhaal.
The two men are drawn to open up to the Zodiac killer and
over many years allow their lives to be poisoned by his
morbidity and fear-mongering and talent for staying at large.
Clues come and go and the actual police procedural is conducted
by the detective whom Steve McQueen cited as a model for
his character Frank Bullit in, er, Bullit.
Mark Ruffalo plays Detective Toschi with a rogue determination
that makes him the most human copper this side of Sergeant
Dixon. If you don't know who that is then it's OK. Some
history can stay in the past. There is a sense in all of
Ruffalo's scenes that what you are watching is the real
deal. This is police work in all of its frustration, difficulty
and minutiae – all of which are appreciated within the movie
– and none of the Martin Riggs mega-stunts. It's about time
a policeman was a human being on screen.
Ruffalo's partner is sensitively played by Anthony Edwards
(so good not to see him embarrass himself as he did as Thunderbirds'
stutterer Brains). The lesser driven of the pair of detectives,
he is worn down by the chase/case and as the years drag
on, he is yanked back from the brink allowing his family
to take precedence over the relentless search for the killer.
The reporter and detective that stay magnetically attached
to the Zodiac nursing a great obsession to reveal this man
and lock him up are further galvanised by Gyllenhaal's cartoonist
whose life falls apart while he pores over case files and
newspaper cuttings pulling the kids in as researchers. The
movie is based on the cartoonist's two published books on
the Zodiac and to be fair to the material (a wealth would
be a relevant adjective), a two and a half hour movie was
never going to do the cases justice. But Fincher's narrative
is still sure footed as the details are scattered before
us like widely strewn jigsaw pieces. The director's command
of his story is absolute (structurally the film doesn't
drag or demand the viewer's IQ to be measured in hat sizes).
You have to be on the ball. But there's still that awful
word I used earlier; 'standard' and it's haunting this review.
used to resent getting school reports with the word 'satisfactory'
on them. It felt demeaning, worthless. I was of the school
that you either noticed me or hated me. I wanted to be thrown
out of my maths class or revered as a Hawking (such naiveté).
Disinterest was not an option. And so I find myself at the
feet of a director whose latest film drew admiration but
not effervescent praise. Zodiac does what
it does with intricate care and startling moments of 'wow!'.
It's a work of intelligence and passion with astounding
attention to detail.
for me, Zodiac's story (movie-wise) never
truly warrants the lavish attention and care spent on it.
I hang my head but that's my take (my first take) on David
Fincher's contemplative procedural. I'm curious about what's