Jake Gyllenhaal and Chloë Sevigny in Zodiac (dir. David Fincher, 2007).

Ever since Alien³, I've had a problem with David Fincher: in retrospect, the problem was that his slick brand of grittiness was the wave of the future for suspense films. It's only a little bit of an exaggeration to say that he definitively established the dominant look of nineties mainstream cinema in its most craven bid for "edginess," a look that is still holding ground. Se7en was the gravest offense: an utterly hollow and lurid cheapening of the noir aesthetic. The Game was similarly childish. Fight Club showed some gains in wit and satirical scope, though it was still too flashy for my taste, and Panic Room was simply a run-of-the-mill domestic thriller.

Zodiac, however, gives some evidence that Fincher has matured as a director. The challenge presented by the material is one that he and screenwriter James Vanderbilt, adapting Robert Graysmith's book, take on with considerable energy: how to take a story without a real conclusion and give it a dramatic arc, creating a compelling logic of interrelation between the three main characters--or for that matter, justifying the decision to present them as the three main characters. It doesn't completely succeed: after about the ninth dead-end lead in the case, the viewer starts to lose faith in the narrative. In fact, that's where the old Fincher rears his head, the Fincher that takes too much delight in gratuitous swerves and fake-outs played out ad infinitum (the Fincher that's most out of control in The Game). This may be what drew him to the material in the first place. That and all the grisly murder. But to tell the truth, the grisly murder mostly drops off before the first hour is out, and from then on it's just a hair away from being dull. There is one scene, however, where Gyllenhaal, playing Graysmith, is suddenly convinced that he's about to be the killer's next victim, and I found myself clutching the sofa fabric pretty hard, even though, for obvious reasons, there shouldn't be any suspense!


Mike H said...

Kasey, at some point in the past you posted a list of your favorite films on either this or l.tree. But I wanted to look at it because I like lists I guess?-- and cannot find it...

K. Silem Mohammad said...

Hey Mike, my favorites list has completely changed in the last year, so I took it down. I'll have to do a new version soon.