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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My Top 5 War Films

#5 Jarhead (2005): At number five is the film based on the award-winning, best-selling book of 2003 Jarhead by Anthony Swofford, a soldier who served in the gulf war that expresses his feelings and tells of his experiences. The adaptation is accurate as it purely focuses on the experience of one individual serving, in the film this individual is Tony Swofford played by Jake Gyllenhaal. It isn’t action packed, or heroic but realistic and cruel showing the real doings of soldiers in the war, the harshness and the impact.

Jarhead follows the story of Swofford who after training becomes a sniper and gets sent to the Gulf War, however he doesn’t even shoot his rifle. It shows them exhausted, lonely and bored as they don’t get given an opportunity to use their training. In some respect they are their own prisoners as they stand in boiling heat and oil 24 hours a day waiting and waiting.

 

This is a realistic film it doesn’t glorify war and that’s I like about it, at one point Swofford explains why he served and signed up, “I’m 20 years old and I was dumb enough to sign a contract”. The other characters in this film are not as important, Swofford befriends the scout sniper Troy (Peter Sarsgaard). The other relevant character being their Staff Sergent Sykes, (Jamie Foxx) who is the polar opposite of his unit of scout snipers, he loves his job and lives for it.

Jarhead was directed by Sam Mendes and he manages to capture the direct experiences of one person in one period time unlike most films, making it somewhat unique. Jarhead deserves my #5 on this list as its hard, real and shows the change in the individual life, not glorifying war and not making action heroes.

#4 Saving Private Ryan (1998): At number four is the incredible Saving Private Ryan, rated as the 37th best film of all time it’s not only a prestigious Great War film but an all time great in general. Graphic and gruesome as they get, and action packed but at the same time presents a real life problem, the problem of the safety of those giving orders and those carrying them out.

A group of soldiers led by Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) have been sent of a propaganda mission to boost morale and create good press. The mission is to find Pvt. Ryan and bring him home, what they don’t know is the danger they have been thrown into and as one of the soldiers mumbles “This Ryan better be worth it”. This film has one of the most remembered opening sequences of all time, thrown straight into gunfire men debark their ship on Omaha beach, fast paced and gruesome the sequence shows blood splattering, limbs flying and the what was once blue sea turn a violent red.

The group have to decide if they want to follow orders or do what they were trained to do after saving Pvt. Ryan (Matt Damon). The film for some will just be an entertaining action packed war film just like any other but for those who see it in the real light will realise this film shows how soldiers are risked for a publicity stunt, addressing some real issues. The thing that impresses me the most about Saving Private Ryan is the ability to create that meaning but at the same time a Great War film with thrilling scenes. The characters are also well written and the acting is outstanding, the crew is on par too with Stephen Spielberg directing and Jansuz Kaminski as cinematographer. Saving Private Ryan much deserving its place on this list, after all it did win 5 Oscars.

#3 Platoon (1986): An anti-war film that’s written and directed by a Vietnam vet, Oliver Stone. Not a film of heroics, action, fantasy or fun but a film based on memories and experiences. The story follows a character based on Stone, played by Charlie Sheen, he a young soldier who volunteers for the war but upon arrival he gets told he doesn’t belong there and he’s an outcast. A film that shows the conflict within a platoon as well as the conflict with the enemy you came to fight.

The directing of this film is amazing, there’s no clear plot either making it unexpected just how Stone would have felt. There’s no clear shot of enemies and everything is rushed and disoriented. It’s a Vietnam film, the most popular topic for Americans in the last half century. It shows the impact on the soldiers, how they lost their heads as well as their lives, how they would open up and kill anyone to better them. It’s not a heroic film but a film of survival. It’s also gruesome, where most films would show action scenes to glorify war this is a film that reverses that, showing the harsh reality.

Stone eventually becomes a great soldier in the film, however not a hero and not an inspiration. Platoon doesn’t make war look fun cause war isn’t fun. It’s for me an amazing film and no surprise it’s on this list at #3, it made a huge impact on me and the world as it won 4 Oscars. It’s an exhilarating war film made even more amazing by the history and context.

 

 

#2 Full Metal Jacket (1987): Not only is this one of my favourite war films its one of my favourite films of all time. Full Metal Jacket is a film of two halves but one strong message. The first half set in the training camp where they are under the rath of the harsh mouthed Drill Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) we follow the relationship between Private Pyle and Joker (Vincent D’Onofrio, Matthew Modine). It shows how they get moulded into weapons and instruments of destruction, how their fates are decided by their actions or inaction.

 

The second half of the film dives into Vietnam, focusing on the test of Jokers psychical and mental strength in the face of death, facing his true test if he’s a killer. The film itself is brilliant, although Full Metal Jacket seems like an uncompleted film it represents one of Americas uncompleted wars. The first half sets up us with the unbearable terror and humiliation something many of us can relate to however the second half is completely new to most of us. It shows the harsh reality and the effect on the mind in some ways Full Metal Jacket is an anti-war film as much as Platoon.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick there’s no wonder its a prestigious film and its on my list. It’s camera work drives you straight into action making it believable, and Stanley Kubrick helped a mainstream movie take a bold step. It’s undoubtedly one of the most remembered war films, and is responsible for one of the most famous quotes “this is my rifle, there are many like it but this one is mine”. That quote in a way sums up this film as it focuses on how a war isn’t a nations war but an individuals.

#1 Apocalypse Now (1979): A film by Francis Ford Coppola who was the man behind the Godfathers. He was probably the only man at the time with the ability or guts to make a film like Apocalypse Now. A film surrounding the Vietnam War focuses on the character of Captain Willard who’s sent on a mission to assassinate a colonel who has lost his sanity and is viewed as god by the local tribe.

The film is open to interpretation and has no conclusions, that disappoints and upsets those who like their films obvious and straight forward. Some argue this isn’t a war film but a film of man, surrounding the war in Nam it’s very much a war film with a message that shows just how crazy things got. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) experiences all the things that sent Colonel Krutz (Marlon Brando) insane, graphic, gruesome and somewhat horrific it shows an inside to Vietnam.

 

The films number one for a few reasons, first of all the context and history surrounding the film shows just how bold Apocalypse Now is. Technically the film is faultless, from the setting, sound, editing and cinematography, finally it’s a film that leaves you with questions that you have to answer yourself, conclusions you have to make up. It won 2 Oscars and besides that is voted as one of the best films of all time. A truly one of film that concludes my top 5 and gets its deserved top spot.

Donnie Darko

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Richard Kelly

Writer: Richard Kelly

Staring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonell, Holmes Osbourne

Rating: ★★★★★

Those who have said bad things about this film have just not understood it. Donnie Darko is that  film where you’ll find yourself watching it over and over looking for the explanation, on the way you will then discover just how good this film is and why it’s rated as one of the best films of all time. It has an amazing cast, a young Jake Gyllenhaal plays the character of Donnie, after he will star in award winning films such as Brokeback Mountain and The Day After Tomorrow. Future Batman star Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jake’s actual sister plays Donnie’s sister Elizabeth. We also get to see the well known Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore staring alongside the otherwise “young” cast.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a teenager who has “issues”, he suffers with hallucinations and gets visited by a demonic six foot rabbit named Frank who manipulates Donnie to commit acts of crime. At the dinner table his sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) tells his parents (Mary McDonell, Holmes Osbourne) that he hasn’t been taking his medication. However later that night due to these visions Donnie escapes death as a 747 Jet engine crashes and destroys his bedroom whilst he’s on a midnight trip with Frank. The mystery grows as Frank tells him that the world is going to end in “28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds” and that jet engine is unknown by the FBI creating the question of where exactly did it come from? All that is known is that Donnie’s escape from death and Franks appearance are two supernatural events that have crossed and are somehow linked.

Donnie attends the local private high school where he meets Gretchen (Jena Malone), a new student who has troubles of her own. They form a relationship and Donnie gets attached, however Gretchen although curious of Donnie’s behaviour is unaware of his visions and his recently committed crimes. Donnie also forms a bond with his English teacher (Drew Barrymore), they share a similarity in which they both have had trouble with the old gym teacher, she plays an important role in the film as she provides an important clue for Donnie. Another key character is “Grandma Death” or Roberta Sparrow, Donnie and his dad nearly run her down a few days after the jet engine crash and she whispers something into his ear. Later on in the film his professor gives him a book that was written by Grandma Death and that proposes the idea of time travel to Donnie, and after reading her book Donnie believes he has all the answers. The rest of the film then fuels on Donnie putting these clues and answers together before he 28 days left, quickly runs out.

This film provides everything from comedy moments to suspense, thrills and gasps. The soundtrack deserves credit and it is complementary throughout as the score is parallel to the scenes. The acting is at a high standard, Jake Gyllenhaal adapts to role of Donnie amazingly well and creates a real attachment between himself and the audience. For Richard Kelly’s first film it is definitely one to remember and one not to miss out on, Donnie Darko will surely be known for many years to come.