Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
This is quite possibly Fincher's most mature film ever. I always thought of Fincher as a concept director; his films are always cool because he exploits the possibilities of unique scenarios --- Se7en (1995), with serial killings attached to the seven capital sins; Fight Club (1999), with that underground organization and its revolutionary ideas; the underwhelming Panic Room (2002) that happens within the confines of a residence made unique by the existence of a security room. All these films are carried by their concepts rather than by involving or thought-provoking narratives and characters.
In Zodiac, Fincher has finally gotten past the juvenilia of concept films. Moreover, trademark Fincher visual touches were outgrown or perhaps have evolved into something more substantial, more pertinent. Those flowing mobile shots (mostly from the perspective of inanimate objects) have been sprinkled in Fincher's entire filmography, yet only in Zodiac do they acquire a meaning that goes beyond the statement of "cool." For example, when Fincher's camera follows the mail-cart through the San Francisco Chronicle's offices, it doesn't evoke that annoying feeling of mere gimmickry but instead, carries with it the implication of the mobility and perpetuation of communication, and its after-effects on society.
There are four characters to take note of in David Fincher's excellent Zodiac. The first is the serial killer who calls himself Zodiac, whose ominous frame we barely see at the film's first violent murder; shooting with absolute gusto and delight, absent any remorse or conscious or intelligent effort to finish off the murder he started. The second is cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) who works for the San Francisco Chronicle and considers reading and books (which are practically the same thing) as his diversions in life. The third is Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) who is tasked, along with his long-time partner William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) to solve the Zodiac killings. The fourth character is columnist Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.), news writer for the Chronicle.
Through these four characters, Fincher delineates humanity's capability to obsess, which is practically what Zodiac is all about. The serial killer is compelled to traverse the lengths of California to murder innocent victims; particularly obsessed with the idea stolen from the film The Most Dangerous Game (Irving Pichel & Ernest Schoedsack, 1932). That perception that humanity is both the hunter and the hunted compels him to play both roles; first, by seeking out easy victims and second, by planting clues and inviting participants (through the media) in his own hunt where he is the clever prey.
The participants in the serial killer's game are of course, the police and the amateur detective who gets so pre-occupied with the puzzle that it becomes an unhealthy obsession --- quite possibly equal to that of the Zodiac killer. The opportunist in the entire endeavor is Paul Avery, who claims the entire Zodiac fiasco as his journalistic masterpiece --- there's no intention to solve the mystery, just enough fuel to get his monopoly on the enterprise going. Through the interplay of these great obsessions, a phenomenon is created; one in which the media, the police, the perpetrators, and the general public are intertwined in genuine confusion and paranoia.
It's all brilliant stuff and Fincher tries his best not to overdo the brilliance. Everything's kept in an air of vagueness; It keeps you uneasy and in constant wonder if the Zodiac mystery has been solved, or if there really is a Zodiac killer, or are the presumptions that there is a single killer and the clues connect with each other a mere result of red tape, creativity, and self-assured conclusions.
There's no actual resolution in the mysteries of the Zodiac killer (not in a legal or factual way), although it seems that the four characters' obsessions have been resolved in various denominations. The paranoia has faded but the legacy of the killer floats in the infinite world of media and communication, to the satisfaction of the hunt-crazed killer. Graysmith has led himself to believe that his life's grandiose puzzle has been solved. The inspector, through Graysmith has closed that chapter in his life, and the self-serving, booze-guzzling reporter has squeezed the opportunity for all its worth to him and has ran out of steam.