Based on a really bad poster.
"There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer."

Hi all, welcome back to The Tagline. Exciting news, over the weekend The Tagline broke 100,000 lifetime hits! Thank you to everyone who helped make that happen by tuning in and listening to me babble about movies. Your continued readership is genuinely appreciated, and I hope we'll enjoy a lot more movies together! Today I decided to celebrate this momentous occasion by talking about a serial killer they never caught, and the men who drove themselves insane in their attempts to pursue him. That's why today's movie is Zodiac, a 2007 release that is based more or less faithfully on the real life events surrounding the victims of the so called Zodiac killer, and the investigation that attempted to identify and apprehend him. In particular this movie is adapted from the books written on the subject by Robert Graysmith, who was working at the San Francisco Chronicle when the first Zodiac letters arrived. Before I go straight into the movie, here's a little mini-history lesson about the Zodiac murders. The Zodiac killer was a serial killer who operated in northern California, primarily between 1968 and 1969, though several other suspected victims would have been attacked as late as 1971. Zodiac sent a number of letters and also cryptograms to various bay area news outlets, (of the four cryptograms sent only one was ever definitively solved). While a large number of suspects were interviewed and investigated, no person was ever convicted of the Zodiac killings, and the case remains open in a number of California jurisdictions, including San Francisco, Napa County and the city of Vallejo. Robert Graysmith, in his book Zodiac, advanced the theory that Arthur Leigh Allen was the Zodiac, based on an array of circumstantial evidence that could have implicated him in the attacks. Now that we have a little background, let's talk about the movie itself.

Look at this stylin' dude.
Zodiac stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the aforementioned Robert Graysmith, who worked at the Chronicle as political cartoonist (in fact he was nominated for a pulitzer, so we can assume he was an at least okay cartoonist at that) when the Zodiac killings took place. Robert Downey Jr. portrays Paul Avery, who was a police reporter at the Chronicle. The movie opens with the 1969 attack on Mike Mageau and Darlene Ferrin, both of whom were shot by the Zodiac. Mageau survived the attack, while Ferrin was killed. A month after this attack, the San Francisco Chronicle's office receives a letter from the killer, that is encrypted but also taunts the police. Because Graysmith is a cartoonist, and not a journalist, no one really takes his interest in the case seriously, even as he is drawn to the case at least in part because of its puzzling nature (by which I mean how it is literally like a puzzle). Paul Avery initially shares this attitude, but after Graysmith is able to crack part of the code he begins sharing information with him about the case. The film also covers the police perspective on the case, showing the investigative efforts of a number of detectives including Dave Toschi (portrayed by Mark Ruffalo), whose efforts begin to take an increasingly costly toll on both his personal and professional life.

Did you know Chloe Sevigny grew up in Darien? Rich all along.
More than covering the details of the case (which certainly the film still does) that is really what I think this movie focuses on thematically, and that seems especially obvious if you consider the tagline at the beginning of this post. There are really three focal characters in the film, Graysmith, Avery and Toschi, and each one of them in some way or another (and to varying degrees) has his life destroyed by the Zodiac killer. After being menaced by letters threatening his life from Zodiac, Avery turns to substance abuse and becomes increasingly paranoid, eventually leaving the Chronicle. Toschi's partner resigns, and he is demoted after being accused of forging a Zodiac letter. Graysmith becomes involved in his own personal investigation, that turns slowly to an all consuming obsession that costs him his job, and eventually his wife and kids as well. This is generally really counter to the theme of a lot of crime/thriller films, where the involved parties are engrossed in their investigation, but this eventually results in justice being served and often times shows them rising to the occasion. In contrast, the investigations and work of Avery, Toschi, and Graysmith do not result in the killer's capture, and ultimately wreck the rest of their lives (though they all eventually pulled themselves together).

Zodiac, Sherlock Holmes, or real life? You be the judge.
The movie is of course dramatized, so it includes some definitive concluding scenes with Graysmith tracking down Allen and having a weird long eye-contact moment with him, and the original victim Mageau being interviewed by police in 1991. Allen was never brought back in for questioning because he died before police could leverage further evidence (also in real life they seemed a lot more dubious about his involvement, although the movie is clearly pressing Graysmith's theory). The real question that was burning me up though, is how is it that between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, they can't manage to find a way to catch some maniac running around shooting people? I mean they are the two smartest members of the Avengers, I honestly expected better from them, especially with Donnie Darko helping them. I really expected better guys. That aside, this was a better than your average crime movie that was genuinely interesting to watch, so if that's your thing I can recommend it.

That's it for today! Join me again later in the week, 

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