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Zodiac

Year: 2007
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: David Fincher
Producer: James Vanderbilt
Writer: James Vanderbilt/Robert Graysmith
Cast: Mark Raffalo, Anthony Edwards, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, Chloe Sevigny, Brian Cox
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting one of the modern masters. What's more, he's made a movie that's uniquely his. With the exception of perhaps Fight Club, no other movie has had Fincher's name on every aspect.

James Cameron cast too long a shadow over Alien 3, likewise Hitchcock over Panic Room. But everything in Zodiac from the style to the story is Fincher's baby. More thrillingly, it shows.

The only comparable moviemaker I could think of was Tarantino, for this reason; remember the scene in Kill Bill 2 where Bill and The bride are approaching each other on the balcony of her flyspeck marital church? Tarantino shows us Bill's feet taking a few steps, then The Bride's. It was a Tarantino shot. Any other director would have just had them walk towards each other, but only he would take the care to make it so iconic.

I got the same feeling about Fincher watching Zodiac; every frame and every shot has been so lovingly laboured over, so exquisitely designed, so carefully planned and meticulously created that the whole movie's like one big work of art.

The music, costuming, production design and... mood give us one of the most complete period films ever, and that's before you even start talking about the story.

Yes it was a big risk making a movie with a serial killer in it where a) the movie isn't actually about the killer and b) there's no neat ending - the killer still not unmasked to this day. Audiences apparently thought so too, either rejecting the idea of not knowing who the killer was or just not being interested enough in the Zodiac case to bother. And that's a shame, because a lot of people missed out on the best film so far in 2007.

The multi-layered cast comprises Mark Ruffalo as legendary San Francisco homicide detective Dave Toschi (upon whom characters from Bullit's Steve McQueen to Dirty Harry's Harry Callahan are based) as the cop in charge of the investigation with his partner (Edwards).

Robert Downey Jr is Paul Avery, the reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle where the Zodiac killer starts sending his letters, and Jake Gyllenhaal is Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who became so obsessed with identifying the Zodiac he went on to write two books about the subject, which in turn became the subject matter for the film.

Each man in his own way becomes unhinged trying to catch the killer, hence the tagline 'there's more than one way to lose your life to a killer'. More interesting than a cops and robbers chase thriller is the morass of procedure between jurisdictions, accusations, facts and evidence.

Two scenes in the film convey the predicament and complexity of solving such crimes perfectly. In one, Toschi and his wife meet Graysmith and his wife (Sevigny) at a cinema where the movie's playing that's partly based on Toschi himself and the Zodiac - Dirty Harry. Unlike Eastwood on screen, who pulls out his magnum and solves the case in a hail of bullets as he cleans up the streets, Toschi has enough trouble just getting the warrant he needs to search the trailer of the prime suspect when Callahan would merely kick the door in and unload.

Second is when Graysmith gets access to the jurisdictional files years later courtesy of local cop Mulanax (Koteas). Shown to a huge bank of archive boxes against the wall of a storage room, he asks Mulanax which box it is. 'All of them', the cop replies.

Couple the artisan-like directorial approach and pitch-perfect design with a story made intriguing by its realness and a powerhouse of performances from actors who've been second-rate more than once and it all adds up to a modern classic.

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