Zodiac: David Fincher Achieves Perfection

By: Cal Parsons

David Fincher is one of my favorite filmmakers working today in Hollywood. His distinctly meticulous, cold, intelligent, perfectionist style is a style that really appeals to me as an aspiring filmmaker hoping to achieve the same. In his 2007 film Zodiac, David Fincher, as the title says, achieves that perfection he always strives for. 

Zodiac tells the story of the Zodiac Killer Investigation spanning decades. It primarily focuses on Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Robert Graysmith, who wrote the book that this film is based on, who was a newspaper cartoonist that becomes obsessed with the puzzling Zodiac mystery after his newspaper office received a message from the Zodiac that needed to be deciphered.

David Fincher did all he could to capture as accurately as possible what happened during the investigation, all the way down to the exact description of the Zodiac killer for each case. This means he used different actors for each appearance of the killer during the murder scenes. Fincher also made sure the handwriting for each letter looked exactly like the originals, the landscape and surroundings looked exactly the same as the original site, and that the length of the film represented the length of the investigation. The film is almost three hours long, and the investigation ran for decades.

Fincher also employs an intense and arduous direction for his actors. He will have his actors do 30 and even up to 100 takes of a scene or even one shot. He explains that “usually by take 17 the earnestness is gone [from the performance].” This intense regimen brings the most authentic performance out of an actor, however, sometimes he’ll use one of the early takes if he sees it fits. Zodiac‘s performances are nothing short of compelling, with Robert Downey Jr’s character slowly descending into madness, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character becomes absorbed by the investigation and it walls him from everything else in his life, and and Mark Ruffalo serves as the film’s rock, that core level-headed mentality that doesn’t fade during the entire investigation.

Other notable aspects of the film include some trademark Fincher styling: the Kubrickian shot composition, the omniscient, smooth camera movements, and dreary, dark, dramatic lighting. David Fincher perfectly captures the investigation of the Zodiac killer and gives us one of the best murder mystery films to ever go to cinema.

Here’s Roger Ebert’s glowing review of Zodiac.

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6 Responses to Zodiac: David Fincher Achieves Perfection

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I can’t wait to watch this movie. I didn’t know Mark Ruffalo was in this film and it reminded me immediately about Spotlight. That film is also an investigation film done featuring reporters. I feel like the style could be a little similar too.

    – Russell Lawrence

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve seen snippets of this film, but haven’t had the chance to see it in full. I love your description of the aesthetic and how it reflects the investigation. I think it is amazing how much effort to replicate the original case went into the film. Love it!

    -Meg Schmit

  3. mediaphiles says:

    Wow, it’s really amazing that he makes the actors do so many takes of the same scene. It’s interesting that by take 17 he feels the earnestness is gone, yet he continues anyway. I wonder if actors appreciate this directing style or if they find it frustrating. I know when I take 12 pictures of the same thing, it become exhausting to sift through it all. I can only imagine this is much more daunting. -Caitlin Herlihy

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. Zodiac is perfect. It is THE best movie of Fincher by far, IMHO. Everything in it is so complicatedly interwoven but just flows smoothly. Character development, plot advancement, and gorgeous cinematography, everything is handled perfectly.
    -Kevin Yu

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with all your commentary! I love this film. My cousin James Vanderbilt wrote the screenplay. You shoudl check out his film Truth, I think you would like it!
    -Katherine Naylor

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I have only seen this film once, and I really enjoyed it, but I had no idea the lengths that Fincher went to. I am a big fan of all his films too, and I definitely want to rewatch this one now.

    -Walker Rise

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