The film starts out with the first two victims of the Zodiac parked in a car at a make out location. The female is looking to seduce the male who is a somewhat awkward teenager when a dark car pulls up behind them and just sits there for a moment. The woman seems to recognize the person in the car even though the darkness makes it impossible to see who it is. After a moment the mystery car drives away only to come back a minute later terrifying the two people in the car. Out steps the driver of the mystery car and without any warning or words spoke proceeds to shoot the victims. Many shots are fired and the killer starts to leave the scene of the crime. Before the killer leaves he decides to walk back and shoot many more times. It is a brutal act and a strong scene that establishes the tone of the film and immediately grabs hold of the audience.
The next scene is in the San Francisco Chronicle where one of the first three Zodiac letters is received. In the letter it demands that they print a cipher provided from the killer on the front page of the newspaper or he will kill twelve people. He also explains the murders in details that only the killer and police would know. Two other newspapers received the same instructions. This begins the long mystery of the Zodiac.
Reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is the lead reporter on the story. We are also introduced to a Cartoonist named Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) who works at the Chronicle. Robert immediately develops a strange interest towards the cipher because he loves puzzles and mysteries. From this point on these two character’s lives are completely engulfed in the Zodiac mystery. Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is the third major player in the story who also becomes obsessed with the case.
More killings occur and many more letters are sent to the Chronicle in the next few years. The killer becomes more fascinated with the attention he receives from the public and publicity than the actual thrill of the murders. The whole situation becomes a big game of cat and mouse. Inspector Toschi comes close to catching the Zodiac who he believes is Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) but never gets enough evidence to arrest him. At the same time other counties where some of the other murders have taken place also come up short.
Paul Avery becomes involved personally with the story and takes it in his own hands to accumulate information and investigate the Zodiac murders believing he is more competent than the Inspectors working on the case. The killer eventually starts harassing him with phone calls and mentions killing him in his letters. All of this eventually becomes too much for the reporter. He starts out as a well dressed reporter with a sound reputation. By the end of the movie Avery transforms into a poorly dressed alcoholic slob who appears to be on the brink of insanity. He loses his career, loses all interest in the case, and becomes a hermit who rots away and dies.
Robert on the other hand starts out as a new comer to the magazine who is treated like a pest. One day he visits Avery who is in a drunken state and pleads with him to write a book about the Zodiac. Robert is disappointed in Avery’s condition and lack of concern so he decides to write the book himself. This begins the long obsession of the cartoonist turned author. Towards the end of the film Robert transforms into an obsessed individual doing detective work as an ordinary citizen. He comes to the conclusion that the suspect Arthur Leigh Allen is the Zodiac. Unfortunately there is never enough evidence to convict Arthur and he ends up having a heart attack once the book is finally published in 1991. At this time Robert stops receiving crank calls which further supports his theory.
The first quarter of the film presents an odd atmosphere with the story line and persona of the characters. There are many jokes that mock the seriousness of the situation and give it a comedy feeling. All of the reporters and even the police could care less about what is going on. Inspector Toschi asks numerous times throughout the film if anyone has any animal crackers. In fact one of the first lines that we hear him say is exactly that and it is at the scene of one of the murders. As the movie progresses the tone becomes so serious that the audience feels as though they are directly involved in the investigation and just as obsessed as the characters.
There was a part in the movie where the Inspector stepped out of his car and shortly after Robert stepped out of a cab. They both got out moments from each other without knowing the other was close. I thought it was clever because this takes place at the same corner where the cab driver was murdered earlier in the film.
One of the successful aspects of the film was the way it captured the different eras. The cars, buildings, wardrobes and attitudes of the people enabled me to feel like I was actually revisiting the time the story takes place. David Fincher knows how to recreate a true story. Another positive was the way the director built up the suspense over a long period of time. The length of the film seemed a little overwhelming but at the same time helped to further establish the fact that the case is still open to this day. Overall the film was good and I would recommend seeing Zodiac.