This movie demands patience. It demands you sit through long conversations and little, needling technicalities. Every scene is crucial; nothing is wasted and nothing can be done away with. Everything is in the right place, and it is there for a reason. Because of this meticulous construction, any person with any kind of appreciation for film will have no problem with sitting through the conversations and the technicalities. They will be patient, and in most cases they will enjoy it. Every scene adds a layer of bizarre anxiety -- and I say bizarre because it's like nothing I've ever felt in a movie before. The anxiety is visceral. It's something felt at the very core of one's emotional foundation.
The fact that Fincher pulled such emotional manipulation off simply astounds me. In almost every scene -- besides perhaps two, and I'll talk about one of those in a minute -- there is no peril for our lead cast of characters. It's cracking codes, worming through clues and watching weeks turn to months, and eventually to years. So the tension is not in the actual plot of the story, which is slightly unusual for a police procedural. And now you're most likely asking, "where is the tension then?" Here is the answer: the characters. The case defines the characters; obsession grips all three leads, particularly Robert Graysmith, played by the always excellent Jake Gyllenhaal. Each of the character arcs are superbly written, and relationships are made and broken by the obsession that consumes the characters -- obsession that in one particular case falls in rags, giving way to hopelessness and the drunk, houseboat bound life of a degenerate. Watching the characters sober and come so close, only to inevitably fall short is a real experience.
There are a few exceptionally brilliant scenes, and I alluded to one of them earlier. That scene is the the infamous basement scene. Most people with knowledge of Finchers work knows about this scene, and it is not so well known for no reason. It comes with a potential revelation, hope that perhaps the killer that Graysmith has been hunting for the last two hours of the movie has finally been tracked down. And this intrigue is central to the scene. I won't go on any further. If you haven't seen the movie, I encourage to find the rest out for yourself, and if you have seen it, then you already know all else there is to tell about this masterclass in scene construction, shot composition, and character development. And there is so much more to tell. This scene is fantastic. Utterly flawless, and so marvelously nail-biting. The next scene I want to highlight is the true cadence of the film. Everything leads up to this moment, and the long, long wait finally rewards the viewer in one, devastating moment. And that's all it is -- a moment. A calm, calculated moment. There are no flying bullets. There is no loud wild music. There is no great chase. A man walks into a hardware store and then leaves moments later, after a marvelously foreshadowed, but extremely simple event that I can't give away. Again, if you've seen the movie, you know what I'm going on about, and you know just how effective the little moment is, and how it just wraps everything together. The understated nature of this climax amplifies the point I made earlier as well; the tension is in character, not plot. Any other scene would not have truly enclosed everything that the film had established, and in my opinion, this is one of the best crests of a story line ever written, finding competition only in Fincher's other masterpiece of a police procedural Se7en.
Zodiac is one of the few gems of cinema made in recent years. Fincher is so often described as meticulous and calculated that it has almost become tiresome, but his man truly does direct his material like a razor blade. Clean, sharp, and precisely placed. He lets nothing slip in Zodiac. He lets nothing feel rushed, dragged, and despite the run time, it never overstays its welcome. It truly is nothing short of perfect.