Thursday, January 14, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #4 - Zodiac

My first exposure to the Zodiac Killer was in the eighth grade. A classmate of mine, Ken, who wasn't quite right in the head (he once took a stapler to his arm and also burnt the back of his hand trying to make homemade napalm) was a big fan of The Zodiac. So much so that when our grade had a mock presidential election, Ken campaigned for Zodiac and, if memory serves, drummed up a couple dozen votes (which probably beat Mondale). I don't recall Ken moving on to high school and always assumed he was either dead or institutionalized.

Nothing like recalling fond memories before watching a movie on a serial killer, right?

I enjoyed this movie. I have a vague recollection of seeing part of it before. Probably slept through it the first time (I do that sometimes). It is painfully long (162 minutes) which makes sense since Zodiac was never caught and so many, many years are covered in the movie. Despite this, the intensity carries throughout most of the film. The biggest downside is that there are a lot of characters in the movie and they don't get the in-depth treatment they really need to flesh the story out. For instance, one of the cops leading the investigation just hangs it up one night saying he's had too much of being on call and that he wants to watch his kids grow up. It comes out of nowhere, we wonder how much the Zodiac case plays in it, heck, we don't even know how many kids he has or how old they are.

Likewise with Robert Downey's character. Downey plays a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Avery. Unlike recently viewed movies, Downey shows up early on in this movie, at about eight minutes in. He is very nicely dressed, very professional looking and stylish. This is important to note because as the movie progresses, he battles alcoholism, develops emphysema (which, we find at the conclusion of the movie, kills him) and everything about him deteriorates over the course of the film. But because there are so many characters and the movie takes great jumps in time, we're left to wonder what drives his falling apart. Was it Zodiac? Was it addiction? What?

We see Downey using a respirator (shades of Fur) and we see him as an alcoholic (as in Charlie Bartlett) so there's not a whole lot new here. Somewhere between I-have-my-life-together Paul Avery and I'm-wasting-my-life-away Paul Avery is probably the most entertaining. He's bold, takes risks, pulls off that Downey smarm real well. Solid but because his appearances are scattered throughout and inconsistent, I cannot really give him a great rating.

The movie mostly follows Downey's colleague, cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who obsesses over the case and eventually publishes a book about it. Pretty gripping flick but much too long for my liking.


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