Monday, March 05, 2007

Here Comes the Hurdy Gurdy Man

The Donovan song is playing when the killer snuffs his first two victims in the new David Fincher film, Zodiac. Apparently, the Hurdy Gurdy Man sometimes likes to sing songs of love...and other times he likes to KILL PEOPLE. Unfortunately, this flick is never so compelling as when the sociopath is doing his thing. Perhaps that's the way of all serial killer movies. Even when there's no killing going on, Silence of the Lambs is always more interesting when Hannibal Lecter or Buffalo Bill is on screen. And although John Doe doesn't appear till very late in the game in Fincher's other serial killer movie (7even), clearly his "sermons" on the seven deadly sins drive the whole film from start to finish.

But Zodiac ain't 7even. It's more of a historical approach to the serial killer narrative--and also a strange grafting of the police procedural and the newspaper procedural--so Fincher can't just have the man with the gun appear and blow some poor schmuck's shit away when there's a lull in the film. Not that a few schmucks don't get their shit blown away...but in real life there were long stretches when "Z" (as Mark Ruffalo's detective calls him) apparently didn't do a damn thing except fire off the occasional fucked up letter to his local newspaper, and the film is determined to show us all those long stretches. I heard snickers from the audience at my local theater, in fact, when time designations such as "one year later," "four years later," and "seven years later" cropped up throughout the movie. And one does wonder, truly, why this story had to go from the 1960's all the way to...zzzzzzzzzzzzz...1991?

On the other hand, if you've got a brilliant director and great actors, why not hang with them for an extra forty-five minutes at the theater? What, you're gonna be late for fucking Desperate Housewives or some shit? And that pretty much sums up my feelings about Zodiac: it certainly doesn't offer many of the thrills and chills of 7even (and no "head in the box" scene), but it's an interesting story and time to inhabit. It may be that many viewers feel the letdown at the end that Jake Gyllenhaal's investigative cartoonist feels when he finally comes face to face with the Zodiac...a kind of "is this all there is?" disappointment.

But if you know the rules, then you know how the game will resolve itself: Fincher is going to read to you the last page of the history book--or let you read it for yourself. After the final image of the film is shown, you see, we're given some further info about how the characters ended up, as many historical films are wont to do. You know, stuff like, "Detecive Joe Blow retired in disgrace in 1980 and had a sex change shortly before he OD'ed on a heroin-laced penis" ( the way...wouldn't that be the most awesome beginning ever for a novel? Think I've got my summer project worked out...).

At any rate, long story shorter--which Zodiac prolly could have been--I recommend this film. And I recommend it more strongly than any other film I've seen so far this year. Just don't except the "head in the box" scene at the end. Or Brad Pitt.


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