Zodiac (2007)

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Drama

Director: David Fincher

Writers: James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo

Rating: ★★★½

Zodiac is a film that targets a specific audience, an audience that likes to think and an audience that likes to keep guessing throughout. I wanted to love this film so much being a fan of David Fincher and his notorious work, however maybe it was that high expectation that made me slightly disappointed. Zodiac is clever, insightful and brave but somehow its ability to overcomplicate ruins what could have been a prestigious film.

The film surrounds the true case of the Zodiac killer that haunted the area of San Francisco Bay in the 1960’s and 70’s becoming one of America’s most famous serial killers. The mysterious individual taunts and terrorises police with letters and cryptic messages foreboding his future murders and explaining the gruesome details of his previous cold victims. We start to follow Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) two employees working for the areas local newspaper who personally get invited by the killer onto the case; Graysmith alongside Avery starts to come obsessed in finding the Zodiac killer. However after claiming to have killed a handful of victims the messages and the case seems to dry up with Avery losing his job and a new Inspector Toschi on the job. Despite the years passing the investigators still try and find the truth in what becomes a long and intensive battle. Graysmith years later creates a book which eventually puts him on track however Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) haunted by the Zodiac killer still doesn’t believe his findings as they battle to find one of the most notorious serial killers in America.

The story adapted by David Graysmith’s book and real life findings is put onto screen by James Vanderbilt and Fincher which results in Zodiac becoming very interesting with the case coming alive with some good direction and entertainment. The first half of the film and story is very fast-paced with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character taking centre stage and murders becoming quick headlines; however it then turns very droning and slow as the story enters many years later. The film attempts to lure the audience into the second half with this great and real life unsolved mystery however at times it is similar to an endurance test with the running time becoming more than two and a half hours long. The story of Paul Avery becomes somewhat pointless as we find out later in the film whilst Mark Ruffalo’s annoying Inspector Toschi seems to prolong events by rejecting Graysmith’s findings.  Eventually choosing the solo effort route Graysmith creates a very fast paced and tense finale which is one of the highlights of the film then leading onto the subtle confirmation and closure of the Zodiac Killer. At times it becomes very complicated and it is that which somehow ruins so much potential and such a great narrative.

The acting within Zodiac was brilliant and on this aspect you can’t complain nor fault.  Jake Gyllenhaal once again shows real talent with such versatility in his role and for me he is such an underrated actor. His portrayal of Graysmith was very realistic and just like the rest of the cast he really showed the intensity of the real-life case also making the audience connect. Downey Junior’s Avery was very impressive and he turned into two polar opposites within the film whilst Ruffalo as Toschi brought along excitement and an element of interest.  Another key element within this film was ofcourse Fincher’s direction and more so the cinematography and scenery shots which broke up tense scenes and isolated claustrophobic locations. The murders and more so the end sequence was really successfully captured by Fincher as he delivered once again a tense nervy chain of events.

Zodiac as much as it is good and you want to love it, holds a lot of flaws which can really bring it down. The long run time as I’ve stated really ruined this film alongside the concept however more so I found some parts rather sloppy. The story spreads out over a number of years but not much within the film world changes such as characters houses, appearances etc. it made for a somewhat sloppy look and proved to be a real spoiler. At times too events seemed to be pointless and although it followed true to the real life case no-doubt it did seem like a hopeless battle.

Zodiac isn’t my favourite piece of work by Fincher and if I’m honest it is most likely at the wrong end of the pile, however that doesn’t make it a terrible film. Although it requires endurance and a lot of thinking Zodiac can become very engaging and somewhat entertaining as you witness the case unfold and the intensity evolve. The acting and visuals are somewhat brilliant which again add to its list of qualities, Zodiac can be easily enjoyable and in a whole is just about worth-while to watch especially for what I believe is a great finale and closing sequence.

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Only God Forgives (2013)

Genre: Thriller, Drama, Crime

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

Rating: ★★★★

Only God Forgives was a controversial and the “cliché marmite” film of last year as it was either blasted and destroyed by critics or quite contrary praised and applauded as one of the best. Nicholas Winding Refn writes and directs the unnamed sequel to Drive, which is a popular soon to be classic in the making, however Only God Forgives takes a very different approach. Technically and visually powering with a very vague story surrounding sex and violence it brings a mixture between art and action leaving a lot of thoughts and opinions with its audience.

We follow Julian (Ryan Gosling) in the heart of Bangkok who ten years previously killed a man and went on the run. In the present and day to day he manages a Thai boxing club whilst playing a major role for an underground drugs operation. He’s a powerful, respected individual with a life, but inside he is empty. When Julian’s brother murders a young underage prostitute the police call on a retired cop, Chang –The Angel of Vengeance. Chang allows the girl’s father to kill Julian’s brother giving him the power of revenge however Chang “restoring order” chops of his hand.  Julian’s estranged criminal mother Crystal flies over to collect her son’s body, with a dysfunctional relationship Crystal orders Julian to seek revenge. Julian empty and lifeless accepts the challenge and dispatches to find his brother’s killer and “raise hell”. However Julian trying revenge The Angle of Vengeance will lead to a battle of more than just strength which ultimately could restore what he has been missing.

Winding Refn’s story attempts to carry on from Drive (2010), Julian is now emotionless and the violent personality we saw in Drive has taken over completely leaving him not only lost but dangerous. The film has a clear plot however it is not executed so it is clear visually; everything is disguised and very vague. Refn attempts to create links and most importantly achieves this, however to understand Only God Forgives you will have to notice the tiny references which relate Chang’s actions together in his arrival and departing scene. The final scenes are amazing to watch however “the fight” scene is by far the best and most stand-out being anticipated throughout. The story in a whole for me is very strong and although it has been criticised on its vagueness and obsessive sex and violence it is all for a reason; Refn makes us think and to show how empty Julian is we watch him when he should be most intimate and connecting. Once again Winding Refn creates a very misty, symbolic and aggressive film.

Visually Only God Forgives is brilliant, it has been described as “perfect photography but without the captions”, that description is spot on. Each and every frame is a joy to experience and has been shot with precision and accuracy. The cinematography again is equal and this alongside Refn’s direction flourishes within the long awaited fight scene. Only God Forgives is technically flawless with even the make-up department thriving in turning the idolised and loved face of Gosling into something that looks broken and destroyed and more so the special effects team on creating gore which is worthy of the horror genre should be praised. The sound is also a highlighting feature and again likewise to Drive it should be applauded as Cliff Martinez shows great talent and skill.

Criticisms have been harshly focused too on Ryan Gosling and his performance which some have said isn’t worthy to be called a “performance”. However for me Gosling was brilliant, it is most likely harder to act without emotions then it is with, as it is human nature that we display emotions each and every day, every second. To capture such a lifeless and empty Julian, Gosling should be praised. However it was only Gosling that really impressed as the rest of the cast although very silent due to script and Refn’s nature wasn’t too believing or real.

Only God Forgives was victim of very bad criticisms however for me there were only two major flaws and areas I didn’t find impressive. The acting in general as I said with the exclusion of Ryan Gosling was very poor but more so this was due to a very mute script from Refn that didn’t pay off as he hoped despite turning more attention maybe towards the visuals.  The story too for me should have been directly linked to Drive and therefore it would have created a better understanding even if there was a short opening sequence continuing from the end of the 2010 hit.

Only God Forgives is a very complex film yet looks so simplistic, once the story is digested and understood it is then easier to enjoy and be inspired by what is a technically and visually flawless film. It thrives of an excellence main character and acting, whilst elements of gore and effects are well managed and executed. Winding Refn creates a very lovable film which for me was one of my favourites of last year and although not the most easiest to watch nor understand it can become very entertaining and essentially a worth-while viewing.