Went it came out, Zodiac was hyped as a bang-em-up, bloody, serial killer movie and was further criticized for a lackluster performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, but we borrowed it from the library and I didn't have that reaction at all. It's a good, old-fashioned thriller mystery - a puzzle to be solved - with good suspense, interesting characters, and a real idiosyncratic soundtrack. That's a big plus with me, I find as the opening credits roll, that most feature film soundtracks sound so obviously imitative that I want to walk out of the film. I know that if that's the music they chose, the film is likely to be built on cliche. But this was really original, some of it jazzy, and some of it quoting Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question, for good reason.
Jake Gyllenhaal was playing a uncharismatic character, so his performance seemed spot on. It seems to me he's often stretched in the wrong way when he's cast as edgy or unusual, but when he's playing white-bread ordinary he's relaxed and open, willing to do whatever is asked - he just doesn't bring much individuality to it. To be honest, I can't tell if he has any depth. Zodiac also features Robert Downey Jr. who turns in a fun performance as a quirky, boozy reporter (surprise, surprise). He's such a good actor, I hope people will think to cast him as something other than a drug addict. But the performance to see this film for is Mark Ruffalo's. In fact, there is no film I've seen him in where he isn't the reason to see it. He's always a whole, complicated person really behaving - when he's woken up out of bed by a phone call, he's not just squinting his eyes, it seems as though he's really been asleep. When he eats half his partner's BLT, he takes off the tomato. He just does whatever he does - it's all individual - no one else would do it that way. At the same time, that's never the point, he's creating a character and if that character requires a certain behavior then he's really behaving. And you can see the thought driving that behavior, and the emotion bubbling below the thought that not even he knows is there. A real actor. If you haven't yet seen him in You Can Count on Me, I can't recommend it enough. He's beautiful in it, so is Laura Linney. But back to Zodiac, it's good, satisfying mystery and suspense that will keep you guessing. Get the popcorn.