Zodiac: Beyond genre
January 11, 2008
Perhaps the most terrible part of upholding the toga of the Ciceronian is that one must constantly change ones style, ones topic, and ones very identity, to constantly re-fold oneself into the very salad. I’ve promised the CDS that I would cover Zodiac and so I must, the Ciceronian must always keep his word, excepting when the Catalinarian comes near.
The Zodiac in some sense seems to defy genres. It is not a gory, slasher, revel in the violence serial killer movie of the Se7en/Saw variety. It is not a chilling look at the psyche of serial killers, like Silence of the Lambs. It is also not a revisionist argument for Arthur Leigh Allen, as the Zodiac. It is one of the better movies of the year, but its not great. The realism, the very thing that makes it good, is also what in the end sort of drags it down.
Zodiac begins with upfront, unadorned murders which seem rather wholly unconnected to the rest of the plot. The letters set the movie off, introducing the journalists and an attack upon a cabbie, introduces the excellent Mark Ruffalo, as a police detective. The plot is media-focused, but avidly avoiding the very celebrity hype aspect from which these movies arise. There is a brilliant scene where Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo are at the premier of Dirty Harry together and Ruffalo walks out disgusted by this wet dream cop fantasy. There are also some lovely depictions of police bureaucracy. Ruffalo has to call back and forth to coordinate between three districts to accomplish anything. Its half journalism, half police work and all masculinity. The women in this movie are victims, either actual or psychological of the Zodiac, or sidelined wives who cannot understand the overtly masculine domain which is the pursuit of the Zodiac.
While I’ve glossed over much of the movie, I think the most substantial piece of the movie is the obsessiveness with the pursuit. Paul Avery loses his job, to be replaced by The Jewish Actor, and moves to a boat, because of he no longer can report on crime, just things that may be connected to the Zodiac. Ruffalo’s police inspector wanders across county lines and accusations, hopeless, but refusing to end his search. Gyllenhaal’s character jumps from random clue, to random clue, in an almost entirely unconvincing manner arriving at Leigh as the killer. In the end, the movie becomes more about those who chase the serial killer than the serial killer himself.