Roger Ebert called Zodiac “the ‘All the President’s Men’ of serial killer movies, with Woodward and Bernstein played by a cop and a cartoonist.” And he’s right, though that’s maybe not the most exciting log-line for what’s genuinely one of the best films, zero qualification, of the past 20 years. It is kind of a police procedural, crossed with a newspaper movie, crossed with a ‘70s ultra-vérité period piece — Ebert’s analogy should have included A Woman Under the Influence — but it’s also an incredibly tense murder mystery that never lets you forget that it’s based on a true story, the Zodiac murders in California and the killer’s code-and-puzzle cat-and-mouse game with newspapers and the police. It’s the back-of-your-mind pressure you never get from a Hannibal Lecter or a Norman Bates, no matter how great those performances: somewhere, at some time, this guy was real.
But there is another thing that it almost forces you to forget, at least for most of its runtime. Passionate performances from Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal push into the background the fact that this isn’t your typical whodunit — the Zodiac murders are still unsolved. The film sort-of kind-of presents a theory, but it’s not interested in wrapping things up in a bow. This isn’t Dirty Harry. The characters are obsessed with Zodiac, but the film is obsessed with their obsession, and the sickening realization that sometimes, all that compulsive combing over details and coming up with theories doesn’t really land you anywhere at all.
A Nightmare on Franklin Street 2019 is presented by Voodoo Ranger and J.J. Taylor Distributing Florida, Inc. Promotional consideration is provided by Spooky Empire and WEDU PBS.