Speaking as somebody who was scared shitless by the Robert Graysmith book when it came out in the late 1980s, David Fincher's new film ZODIAC is a terrific example of a riveting story well told. Most appreciated is Fincher's directorial restraint in terms of camera gimmickry and flashy editing. Just point the camera at the actors, and let them perform the words. ZODIAC is also a perfect example of the way that CGI should be used in movies. It's there, around the edges, an excellent tool for filling in edges and completing backgrounds.
As well-acquainted with the Zodiac's history as I am, it was very strange to actually see on-screen events that I have read about and thought about many times. I believe that Graysmith's account of the attacks on Cecilia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell is one of the spookiest I've ever read, and to see it actually occurring in a dramatic fashion brought a shiver. Almost everything Fincher does in ZODIAC is precisely as I imagine it really was.
Not that he doesn't Hollywood things up a bit. Handicapped by the fact that, outside of the killings that occur in the film's first half, the Zodiac story has little action or suspense, Fincher creates at least one probably false setpiece to keep us on our toes. That's Graysmith's (Jake Gyllenhaal) visit to Bob Vaughn's house, where Fincher has Vaughn acting unnaturally creepy in order to raise some goosebumps. I don't recall if that's how Graysmith described it in his book, but even so, it all rings phony in the film.
It's been written that ZODIAC seems influenced by ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, and I'd have to agree. Not only is much of the movie set in a 1970's newspaper office, but David Shire was hired to compose the (sparse) score. As few directors are clamoring for Shire to score their films (even though much of his '70s work is terrific), I have to believe Fincher's choice of composer is no accident.
The attention to period detail is almost perfect; the calendar at Lee Allen's hardware store reads February 1980 (it's supposed to be 1983), and I bought the same shower brush hanging in the Graysmiths' bathroom at Wal-Mart last month, but just about everything else rings true.
Did anyone else recognize Ione Skye (SAY ANYTHING) as Kathleen Johns? It took me a little while; in fact, it took me out of the movie a bit, trying to place her. She appears unbilled, and I'm curious why. The "Hurdy Gurdy Man" connection is the only reason I can think of, though it doesn't explain why she wouldn't take a credit.