Thursday, 16 February 2017

Zodiac (4 Stars)

After knowing about this film for many years I finally decided to watch it today. Even so, it took me half the day to get started. As the film started I saw that it was 162 minutes long, so I stopped it and asked myself whether I really wanted to sit through a murder mystery for three hours. I went about my daily chores, I took a nap, and finally, hours later, I sat down to watch it.

All I needed to do was get over the start hurdle. After the first few minutes I was hooked.

The film is a true story about a serial killer who murdered several people in California from 1968 to 1970. He was unlike other serial killers in several respects. He didn't have a consistent modus operandi. The killings didn't resemble one another, so it was difficult to tie them together. He wrote letters to newspapers boasting about what he had done. Most unusually, he stopped killing. Supposedly, killers get a taste for blood and carry on.

How many people did he kill? Five murders were attributed to him, but in his letters he claimed to have killed twelve. The police never discovered who the other victims were.

It seems that the man, who called himself Zodiac, was more interested in fame than in the killing itself. He remained in touch with a newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, for years after his last murder. He was teasing the press (and indirectly the police), saying he was too clever to be caught. He was right. He was never caught, and the case is still open today, even though the murderer is probably dead.

The main character in the film is Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle. The film itself is based on a book he wrote claiming to have identified the killer, though there was insufficient evidence for the police to take action. Robert wasn't a reporter, even less an investigative reporter, but he was fascinated by the case and devoted his life to solving it. He continued even though it put his life at risk. He received repeated anonymous phone calls from someone who was probably the killer. Those were the old days before it was easy to trace phone calls.

The film moves slowly, ploddingly, but it's never boring. The top rate acting of the lead characters kept my interest throughout. I kept on hoping that the killer would finally be caught, right up to the end, but I was disappointed. That's the difference between real life and fiction. In real life the good guys don't always win.

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