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Zodiac, the story of the Zodiac killer and his spree in the late 1960’s thru early 1970’s is a pervasive look into the mind and mind games of a serial killer wonderfully presented on the big screen by David Fincher. It’s hard to say if many are seeing the film based purely on memories of the horrific events in northern California or for the marketing machine pushing the film from the director of Se7en. In either case, the audience is treated to a visually stunning masterpiece of cinematography and storytelling that once again raises the bar for each.

The film immediately hooks you with its pre-credit sequence about the attempted murder of two victims and maintains that hook relying on Fincher’s dark visual style and the compelling story of the police’s pursuit of apprehending the self-named Zodiac which eventually morphs into the quest of a former San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), to finally discover the identity of the Zodiac killer and come face to face with him.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is excellent, perfecting the portrayal of the debating Graysmith who becomes involved in Zodiac case little by little by overhearing meetings at the Chronicle which eventually turns into his own private investigation into the elusive killer’s identity ultimately coming to a conclusion that has since been disproved by partial DNA evidence.

Those familiar with Fincher’s work, especially that of Panic Room and Se7en, will see many similarities in his style here but some amazing new camera work as well. The opening shot of the film is a long cut out of the passenger window of a car as it passes down a rural residential street is just one of the many ways Fincher visually wows the audience during the film. Several times during the movie I leaned over to those I was seeing the film with and simply said, “that’s cool.” Very few directors can get that sort of reaction to their choice of camera shots, but Fincher routinely manages to push the bar higher and higher.

Another strong point about the film is its authenticity accurately portraying early 1970’s fashion and live style right down to the retro Paramount and Warner Bros. logos opening the production up.

Focusing back on the cast of characters, Robert Downey, Jr. makes yet another strong project decision by inheriting and owning the role of Chronicle writer Paul Avery, whose presence fades as the film goes on, but is never forgotten. His snarky comments and alcoholic breakdown near the film’s turning point are definitely one of the most memorable aspects of the entire movie. Mark Ruffalo, sporting some bad 70’s hair, also stamps your memory with his portrayal of Zodiac lead investigator David Toschi who becomes disenfranchised over his many years working on it.

The only complaint about the film is its running time which normally feels like a brisk two hours and 40 minutes, but at times can seem to drag here and there with bits that could have been trimmed and still preserve the overall integrity of the narrative. Other than that, Zodiac is easily the best movie released this year and its strong cast, compelling story, and rock-solid direction are all the more reason to see this film.