“Zodiac,” review by Susan Granger

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If you expect this thriller to reveal much about San Francisco’s most notorious serial killer, known as the Zodiac, or his seemingly random victims, forget it. Instead, it’s about a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with the murders.

Although he’s always on the sidelines at editorial meetings, earnest Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes an immediate interest when, in 1969, two teenagers are gunned down at Lookout Point and the newspaper receives a cryptogram from the killer. Graysmith eagerly lurks around the desk of boozing, egotistical crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) when the Zodiac strikes again and again, taunting homicide detectives David Tocchi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Andrew Edwards).

But since the confusing crimes take place in different jurisdictions in an era before the electronic age of faxes, cellphones and the Internet, no arrest is ever made – and the case eventually grows cold. Except to Graysmith, who doggedly pursues every lead to write a book about the Zodiac enigma; his eerie research erodes his relationship with his wife (Chloe Sevigny).

While director David Fincher (“Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room”) dutifully recreates the gritty atmosphere and ominous dread that gripped the Bay Area, screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s adaptation of Graysmith’s book resembles a police procedural, word-heavy with dates, details and drab, disjointed snippets of conversation. The simplistic characterizations are sketchy – with flamboyant, scene-stealing Robert Downey Jr. and Brian Cox, as pompous celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli, faring best. And since there’s no satisfactory conclusion to this true tale, the lack of emotional involvement with the various characters is a fatal flaw. Surprisingly lacking both fear and suspense, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Zodiac” is a disappointingly inconclusive 5, running a tedious 2 ½ hours. Yawn!

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.