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Thereís More Than One Way To Lose Your Life To A Killer

In the summer of 1969, San Francisco was gripped by fear and panic with the emergence of the serial killer known only as "The Zodiac Killer". The Zodiac Killer deftly manipulated the media and law enforcement officials with letters to the San Francisco Chronicle and cryptic ciphers. While the Zodiac claimed more than his fair share of lives through his grisly murders, there were a few lives that while not ended at his hands, were certainly consumed by him.

David Fincherís Zodiac is largely the account of a few men whose lives were taken over by the Zodiac case: Paul Avery (a San Francisco Chronicle crime beat reporter), Robert Graysmith (a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle), and San Francisco police inspector David Toschi. The trials and tribulations of Paul, Robert and, David are compelling enough to keep one engaged for most of the film, but Zodiac is not beyond reproach.

For starters, the film is nearly three hours long. Zodiac is not a film that needs to be three hours long. In using Robert Graysmithís book by the same title as source material, it almost seems that Fincher felt the need to include everything. But, it would have been a wise move to tighten up the editing a bit as this likely would have resulted in a tighter, better paced film. As it is, Zodiac sometimes feels like a television miniseries that should be screened over the course of a week.

Another challenge with the movie is its lack of focus. At various times, Paul, Robert, and David appear to be the protagonist and then seemingly fade into the background. While all three of them become a bit obsessed and consumed by the Zodiac itís not entirely clear why they are so consumed with it. YesÖitís heinous, itís awful, itís horrific, but not everyone responds to this case the way these three men do.

With David Toschi, heís a copÖitís his job to close the case. With Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), finding the identity will boost his circulation. So, for two of the three you can somewhat rationalize their obsession with the case. But, with Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), itís a stretch.

Why is this eccentric cartoonist so consumed with the case? Other than him stating explicitly that he "HAS TO KNOW", there is nothing in his actions or behavior that reflects WHY he has to know. This is less Gyllenhaalís fault and more a shortcoming of the writing.

Setting aside some of these problems, Robert Downey Jr. does a great job of portraying the boozing, irreverent, idiosyncratic Paul Avery. Watching Avery become increasingly consumed with the case (and booze) is well executed by Downey, but given his history, this performance likely wasnít a huge stretch for him.

Mark Ruffalo does a slightly less solid job as police inspector David Toschi. Thereís nothing wrong per se with Ruffaloís rendition, but there isnít much to Toschi aside from his animal cracker fetish. Itís unclear if his penchant for animal crackers is supposed to be amusing, quirky, or if itís just throwaway. At any rate, thereís not much to David, but Ruffalo is a good actor and pulls it off for the most part.

Fincher (Panic Room, Fight Club, Se7en) deserves credit for thoroughly and compellingly retelling the Zodiac saga, but not much else. Zodiac is not one of Fincherís best films, but itís not a complete waste of time, unless you consider three hours in a multiplex a complete waste of time.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars