If you expect this thriller to reveal much about San Franciscos most notorious serial killer, known as the Zodiac, or his seemingly random victims, forget it. Instead, its about a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with the murders.
Although hes 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 Vanderbilts adaptation of Graysmiths 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 theres 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!