Signs are that Fincher has an enduring hit on his hands

PUBLISHED: 16:08 30 May 2007 | UPDATED: 14:32 07 September 2010

by Michael Joyce ZODIAC (15) Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr, Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny and Elias Koteas. 156 mins Four star rating T here s really very little uncovered ground when it comes to serial killers bu

ZODIAC (15)

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr, Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny and Elias Koteas.

156 mins

Four star rating

T here's really very little uncovered ground when it comes to serial killers but this exhaustive and engrossing movie, an adaptation of two non fiction books into America's most famous unsolved mass murder case is not quite like anything before it. It's All The President's Men crossed with one of those Jack The Ripper - the Truth Revealed TV movies, as newspapermen and cops try to sift through clues and blind alleys in the search for the Zodiac killer who terrorised late 60's/early 70's San Francisco with his random attacks and taunted the police with cryptic letters to the media.

Gyllenhall and Downey Jr represent the newspaper side, playing the inhibited cartoonist Robert Graysmith who wrote the books and alcoholic crime reporter Paul Avery respectively. On the police side, Ruffalo's portrayal of detective Toschi initially struck me as being a bit too Columbo for comfort while partner Edwards is a ringer for Kevin Costner in JFK.

The Zodiac is like a phantom, a figure so mysterious it's not always clear which murders he's actually committed. It's quite a challenge to take on a story that has none of the givens of the genre.

There's no one central figure or pairing doing the deducting; no steady building of tension or even a clear resolution.

It's a demanding watch but only in the sense that even in this age of information overload there's a lot for viewers to take on board as it hurtles along trying to cram in more than 30 years of developments. Squeamish viewers should be relieved to know that, one stabbing scene apart, there's very little violence.

Director Fincher was a child in San Francisco at the time and obviously making Se7en didn't do enough to quench his obsession so he's gone back to the root; in the process passing up the opportunity to film the West Coast's other great unsolved murder mystery The Black Dahlia.

There's something reassuringly chunky about the film, and at the end you feel like you're spent your two and a half hours on something of substance. Fincher has the skill to adapt himself to each project rather than impose a one-style-fits-all approach and here he keeps it simple and spare. He doesn't bombard you with period details, just lets Donovan's song "Hurdy Gurdy Man" set the mood at the start and then makes sure nothing jars with it.

The most telling 70s detail is the way the movie recaptures a brief era when such thoughtful, rewarding Hollywood movies were quite commonplace.

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