Zodiac

Zodiac ★★★★★

I want to talk about one scene that is rarely ever brought up that to me functions as a microcosm for the film as a whole. There is a sequence roughly thirty six minutes into the film that takes place shortly after cab driver Paul Stine was murdered. What happens here is at the San Francisco police department, Inspector Dave Toschi begins collecting data for potential suspects while Inspector Bill Armstrong tries to coordinate with police in Valejo and Napa where two of the Zodiac murders took place.

My short description of the scene evokes the sense that this is un-cinematic, yet it leaves me in awe on every watch. The sequence opens with Toschi updating the police Captain Marty Lee on his progress before switching to Bill's perspective. Instead of making good progress, both men fall deeper into the overwhelming intricacies of the case and police procedure. In other words, they're swamped. Fincher underlays the entire scene with the ceaseless sounds of phones ringing non-stop to the point where it becomes more important than the dialogue. Toschi's fatherhood comes up at one point in his conversation with the police captain (who is simultaneously obtaining the swamped information while tying his tie) right before directing our attention to Armstrong on the phone. This moment that switches perspectives is brilliant as Fincher rack focuses a shot with deep space from Toschi to Armstrong, connecting the two family men swamped by their work. First Armstrong talks to Jack from Vallejo as he asks to meet with Mike Mageau, the survivor of the murder in the opening scene. Fincher doesn't remind us who Mike Mageau is and instead keeps us right in the thickness of everything Armstrong is in. Jack then faults Armstrong for not involving Vallejo police in on the handwriting sample San Francisco acquired before telling him he should speak with Ken Narlow in Napa. Not even a second after this, Fincher jump cuts to Ken Narlow on the phone, again faulting Armstrong for not involving Napa police in on the handwriting sample. Another filmmaker would probably sit on this or throw in an establishing shot or introduce Ken Narlow before he talks to Armstrong, but Fincher stays right in on Armstrong's attempts to coordinate with police. Long story short, Narlow gives Armstrong evidence that the Zodiac could be military because of the boot prints from the Napa crime scene. Right when Armstrong learns a new important piece of evidence, his struggles worsen as trying to send documents between San Francisco, Vallejo, and Napa are proving to be painfully difficult. Fincher jump cuts again to Armstrong talking to Jack, further emphasizing the arduous nature of external police communication. The scene is punctuated with a new angle of Armstrong on the phone as Fincher presents him in the foreground learning that one of the Zodiac murders took place in Solano County, meaning he has yet another police department he has to try to coordinate with. In the meantime, the background presents Toschi talking to a couple police officers. This may be a new exciting development in the case. Only if you keep watching into the next scene, it proves to be a missed opportunity on furthering the investigation.

This is why I love this movie so much. In every second of every exacting frame, Fincher investigates into every detail on the Zodiac murders and allows us to join him for the ride. Only that isn't what this movie is really about. The scene I detailed communicates cinematically how mentally and emotionally painful investigating the Zodiac was for these people and how it consumed every second of their day at work and more after. Fincher does all of this in just under three minutes and keeps it going all the way through to the end of the near three hour runtime when all these years later, the obsessive Robert Graysmith finally feels as though he has cracked the case, providing a catharsis unlike any film I have ever seen.

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