Zodiac ★★★★½

The date is July 4th, 1969. While a curtain of fireworks delight a crowd of onlookers, Michael Mageau and his girlfriend, Darlene Ferrin, view this as a perfect opportunity to find some more privacy for themselves, despite a few brief teenage hecklers as they pass by in their pickups. All seems to be at peace for the happy couple, until a mysterious cloaked figure appears and fires several rounds into both of them. While Michael miraculously survives, Darlene wasn't so fortunate. This will later become recognized as the first major appearance of the infamous Zodiac killer, the serial murderer who terrorized the streets of San Francisco and its press for years. To this day, there is no conclusive evidence as to who the real Zodiac killer was; but that doesn't make his story, and the tale of unraveling his true identity, all the more fascinating.

David Fincher proves that he is a master at the crime genre, creating a thorough 160 minute police procedural that examines every captivating detail on the investigation. He creates a dark, gritty tone of uncertainty that never lets the viewer remain calm for a nanosecond. Each piece of this massive puzzle falls into its place to reveal a few more pieces, creating an insatiable desire to know where it all really leads to. Perhaps it was Fincher's intention to mirror the emotions of Robert Graysmith onto his audience, because the deeper into this mystery you go, the more you'll demand to know. It's a perfect example of the best kind of audience manipulation, where we feel injected to the center of the story. And what's more fascinating than being a part of one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the 20th century?

Jake Gyllenhaal has always been fantastic at playing psychologically driven characters, and his maddening performance as cartoonist Robert Graysmith perfectly encapsulates the definition of obsession. He finds himself so drawn into this deranged serial killer that it consumes his very way of life, slowly eroding his relationships with those around him. Zodiac is a human crime drama, with a stellar form of character development and decay. Every lead character throughout this 20+ year spanning story clearly shows signs of progress and experience as time moves forward. We don't feel like we're watching the same characters we had just seen five minutes before. The four year gap in the brief intermission puts some heavy changes into the characters- people move on, the public at large lost interest in the Zodiac killer as a whole. Even Graysmith's psychological deterioration can be felt reaching out of the screen, forming a near indestructible connection with the viewer.

Fincher is no stranger to crafting tension, and while this is by and large a procedural crime drama, Zodiac is certainly not without its skin crawling moments. The mere knowledge that there is someone still out there committing these horrifying acts without any real indication or clue as to who it could be creates an eerie and unnerving feeling within the mind. Some scenes deliver an insidious feeling of pure, unbridled horror in the subtlest of ways, all the more amplified when you realize that this is all a true story. That someone so disconnected from the world around him actually existed. Zodiac isn't just an informative crime drama. It's an examination of how depraved humanity can become; a dissection of unchecked compulsion and its ramifications. One of the most complete and fleshed out true crime depictions ever, and another piece of evidence as to why Fincher is still one of my absolute favorite directors.

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