Zodiac (2007)

As a [sometimes] die-hard fan of Robert Downey Jr., I’d been looking to see “Zodiac” for quite some time. Heard the movie was fantastic…

I’d compare it with a lot of other films I’d been most anxious to see strictly because of him… where he’s playing somewhat of a minor character compared to the other people higher up on the playbill.

“Gothika” and “Wonder Boys” are the two that come to mind.

And as far as the overall movie goes, I’d rank them as such:

1) Wonder Boys
2) Gothika/Zodiac
3) Zodiac/Gothika

it depends on my mood, I guess. I wasn’t necessarily “anxious” to see Gothika, per se, but it was on the movie channels so much… I was basicallly asking for it.

I wondered earlier on in the movie, having not seen Mark Ruffalo yet, why Robert is listed third on the cover of the film…
I got my answer after the first hour… 90 minutes…

his character, Paul Avery, left the San Francisco Chronicle and more or less the “public” eye in 1975

I knew very little going into this… I’d heard of the Zodiac killer, this was about a guy who discovered but didn’t prove who he was… and that, I forget which interview it was but, Robert said the guy he was playing had already died so he didn’t have as much to go on as the other two stars.

I’ll just get the previous statement straight about the three movies.

Terry Crabtree (Wonder Boys) was kind of a twisted character and his arrogance and his all-business attitude was kind of a turn-off… Robert said that Sherlock Holmes is a weirdo but Crabtree’s promiscuity is something to be taken into account where weirdness goes.
Nothing against the teams he plays for, but I just get the impression that he’s into weird stuff in the bedroom. Then there was the whole thing about him dogging Professor Tripp about that second book because it’s been 7 years… all business, doesn’t seem to care about much else.
But I dunno, watching the movie a second time softened me up a tiny bit.

As far as the character go, the ones he’s played past and present… perhaps the strangest of them of all that was kind of a WTF moment was Leo Williams in “Johnny be Good” which was a really bad 80’s movie in general. His character seemed a little one-dimensional
Jack Jericho at least grows on you as time goes by, but “The Pick-up Artist” is only a slightly better movie than the one above.

With “Gothika,” his character only had maybe half an hour of total screentime… not even that, I think it was more like 15-20 minutes… but in whatever little time he’s given, he does deliver.
And even though the plot is a little proposterous (you know, Halle Berry was possessed by a ghost this whole time), I was able to stick with it a lot more easily than “Zodiac”

FX does a bang-up job with movies, but I must say that there weren’t nearly as many commercials to contend with here. The movie has a running time of 2 hours and 36 minutes, so it’s roughly 24 minutes of commercials.
It’s just me… but I think the movie runs a little too longer and after a while I kinda lose interest. I’m surprised that the reporters and the inspector stuck with the Zodiac case as long as they did… it was pretty clear that they were never gonna catch the guy. The best they could do, or rather, Robert Graymith could do, was find out who he was. Even if they’ll never be able to prove that it was him.

On the plus side, FX is a cable channel so a lot of the potential really nasty stuff that the killer did to his victims was probably edited out.
As I said about Gothika, I’m not huge on horror movies and even though the plot was weak (weaker than the dialogue which everyone says is pretty horrible), it was somehow interesting how everything went down… the psychological thrillers like that can sometimes provide me with some amusement. Definitely a lot easier to watch and get through than “Saw” was where I had to turn my head through a lot of the really nasty parts… but I appreciated the unique plot.

Then they kinda turned it into a franchise and all of the movies are really sadistic, there isn’t that same kind of prolonged tension between the two guys locked in the room with their ankles chained up


I understand that Paul Avery is a good part. Heck, the guy sounded like a helluva reporter. One of those occasions where they say “they don’t make ’em like that anymore.”
More on my bit of research later.


I can’t really divulge too much of the plot because in the 3.5 hours (oh shoot, that would make it more than 24 minutes of commercials, wouldnt it), I’d kinda gotten lost in a lot of the details.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graymith, a political cartoonist who wrote the book on which this movie is based… I could be wrong… but this is the first of his movies that I’d seen, knowing full well he was in them (I saw “Donnie Darko” but my memory of that is vague as well, it was very strange and kinda spooky)… he was very likeable and after a while, he really got into his character. He played him right.

The movie begins with the 2nd killing which takes place on July 4th of 1969…
if as its not sadistic enough that the guy kills them, but he actually calls in the police report. You’d ask what kind of serial killer reports his own crimes… this guy was just that sick.

I thought originally that this would have to do with the astrological Zodiac… you know with the constellations and such, but supposedly he got his name (and the symbol he signed his letters with) from an ad for a watch…

The San Francisco chronicle gets sent a letter and cipher and is told to post the cipher and letter or else there will be more killings.
Robert Graysmith looks at the cipher briefly and contrary to what Zodiac says, he says you won’t be able to find his name in the cipher.

Paul Avery hears him in passing and discovers that he’s right. And this isn’t the first time this occurs. For a cartoonist, Robert Graysmith is pretty intuitive.
Not only that, but he manages to crack the cipher between a couple different books from the library. He divulges his method over cocktails with Paul Avery… there are two symbols commonly seen together and he says “what’s the most common double-letter in the english langugage”… he suggests “ll” and believes he’s using the word “kill” over and over again… and the rest of the symbols he got from different books

Heck, Mark Ruffalo isn’t seen on film until maybe 30-40 minutes into it, so I was questioning if he had a big role at all… he plays inspector Dave Toschi who is on scene after the 5th murder, this time of a taxi driver.

After a while, the police get involved in all this and there’s a little bit of tension between the SFPD and the Chronicle because they want the newspaper people to let them take care of the investigation.
There’s a little tension between Toschi and Avery to the point where when asked if he suspects Paul Avery to be the killer, he replies “every day”


My intial complaint with the film was that the dialogue was so quiet and sometimes Robert rushed through his dialogue so I couldn’t pick out too much of what the hell he was talking about…
it got easier but it took a while.

There were maybe 2-3 scenes of mention where he had his usual fantastic moments and I enjoy the fact he was part of this.

The first one was where he and Jake Gyllenhaal are at a bar and after much thought, he makes a comment: “I can’t put it off any longer, what is that?”… pointing to a very blue cocktail that Robert Graysmith is getting into…
he replies “Blue Aquavelva”… and makes a comment like “don’t knock it until you try it”… he takes a huge swig… next scene, you find several empty glasses in front of both of them when they take presidence in a booth

it’s one of those things where my dad would be shaking his head, saying that its a girly drink…
it was blue, it had a pineapple slice as a garnish, a straw and a tiny umbrella
this coming from the same guy who refuses to eat strawberries and smoothies

to which I always quote my favorite line from the otherwise dismal “Intolerable Cruelty”…

“everybody eats berries”…
we rented the DVD from Blockbuster and watched outtakes… that replayed that line at least 37 times, and I don’t know why they needed so many takes. Were there too many people in the background, was the execeution not quite right or was it just a gag? lol

the dude who says it to George Clooney does so in response to George saying “nobody needs berry spoons”… which the dude gives as a wedding gift

the scuffle that Paul Avery gets into with Dave Toschi is another, for sure…

then the third which ultimately results in the “manufacturing” of the “I am not Paul Avery” buttons worn by everyone at the Chronicle for some time…

supposedly Paul gets a card from the Zodiac killer with a fragment of clothing stained with blood inside… a death threat as it was… and when he opens it, he gets up right away and starts flipping out…
I dunno what it is about this guy, but sometimes his most exciting scenes are when he flips out about something or is screaming at somebody

Dave Toschi’s explanation is “you did call him a ‘latent homosexual’ in one of your articles” though I can’t help but wonder if he was trying to keep a straight face during all this
because of the threat, Paul Avery wants to get a gun and you next see him and Robert Graysmith at a shooting gallery with the “I am not Paul Avery” buttons

I think what really gets under Dave Toschi’s skin is when Paul Avery investigates a murder that took place in 1966 and says that it was a potential Zodiac killing… talk about going the extra mile for a story

I’m not sure of the year, might have 1975 or 1972… but at one point, it appears that Paul Avery is so obsessed with this case that he turns to heavy drinking to numb himself… He shows up at the office one day, seems a little (ok, more than just a little) off-balance, especially when he’s told by his superiors that he’s off the case… he proceeds to throw some papers and gives them the finger before walking off the premesis

You see him in two more scenes… when Robert Graysmith begins his own investigation and talks to Paul Avery at his boathouse, where he seems to have let himself go quite a bit… and there is evidence of heavy drinking and now, cocaine…
so of course I’m cringing and freaking out that he’d died of an overdose or something…

and he’s seen very briefly in another where he’s watching Robert Graymith on TV talking about a book he’s writing… and he’s got a small oxgyen tank with him… and yet, he’s still smoking


After some time goes by and the Zodiac killer goes underground, Dave Toschi’s partner (played by Anthony Edwards) drops out of the investigation to spend time with family. Then another letter surfaces and Dave Toschi is accused of forging it himself… for some really strange reason that makes no goddam sense, other than the fact his name is in the letter and it might be a plea for attention, whatever

Somewhere along the line, Robert Graysmith decides to do his own investigation and since he’s just a reporter, he can go through other channels without needing a search warrant and whatnot… the obsession starts to take a hold of him as well and his girlfriend (later his wife) is concerned that he’s spending too much time on it and not with his family


Ultimately, he has his suspect and the movie ends with him locking eyes with him… and of course there are some words on the screen to bring to light how the true events ended

It was never proved that the suspect was the Zodiac killer… Dave Toschi and Robert Graysmith are living out their lives comfortably with their families after everything was taken care of.

Paul Avery died in 2000 of a pulmonary embolism and his family scattered his ashes at some location I can’t remember


So in my research hours after the fact… once the numbness went away… I suppose in the long run it is a good movie, very good interpretation of the true events that occurred over the years in San Francisco…
occasionally I had it in my mind that I have to look at it as a whole film more than just another Robert Downey performance cuz the movie isn’t about him, not entirely…
David Fincher himself said that it’s more about the investigation and the movie shoulda been called “the Zodiac investigation”

It was maybe 50% Robert Graysmith
40% Dave Toschi
and 10% Paul Avery

or so it felt like.

A few liberties were taken, one of the biggest being that Robert and Paul weren’t buddy-buddy the way they were in the movie.

I did google images and yeah, Robert did look like the character he was playing.

Because of the drugs and such, I was pretty concerned and had to see for myself if there was an overdose or if the drugs led to his death.

To my relief, Paul Avery lived to be 66… which isn’t too shabby for lifestyle.
Naturally his obit didn’t mention the addictions

but it did say that he suffered from emphysema… all that smoking is probably what did him in… the obit spoke of nothing but respect for the guy and even though he lived hard and fast, he was a helluva reporter

And much to my disappointment, the Zodiac interview with Robert Downey has been taken off of YouTube. I’d seen it once or twice before but now that I’d seen the movie, it woulda been nice to hear him talk for more than just a couple minutes (inside the actor’s studio) about it.

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