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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007 11:36 am

The thrill when stars align

Despite its length, Zodiac grabs and holds tight

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Untitled Document Those familiar with the case of the Zodiac Killer, who first struck in San Francisco in 1968, know that the murderer was never caught — so there’s no hope that Zodiac will be a neat-and-tidy mystery. Be that as it may, director David Fincher (Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room) succeeds in creating a genuinely effective thriller. Newspaper political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the most idealistic of the four men who set out to unravel this gruesome mystery. A word-puzzle addict, he takes to deciphering the killer’s coded notes and finds himself obsessed not only by the Zodiac’s mind but also by his methods. Equally taken by the case is Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who sees bringing the killer in as a personal mission, one that will eventually have a negative effect on every aspect of his life. Although his partner, William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), is able to distance himself, the many dead ends they encounter make Toschi cynical and bitter before his time. Time has already worn away at crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.); his alcoholism, coupled with his obsessive research of the case, makes for a textbook example of self-destructive behavior. The ripple effect of this case on the men is profound, and with the film running more than two-and-a-half hours, it feels as though we witness every traumatic event in their lives over the course of a decade. Fincher is such a master at generating such a distinctive mood that even when the killer isn’t onscreen his presence is felt. He haunts this film, much as he did those whose lives were inextricably linked to his.  
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