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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Now You See Me (2013)

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

Rating: ★★★

Now You See Me is a film based on magic and illusions which mix into the criminal world, somehow all combining it creates a fun concept; however such a well-thought and fun concept is executed rather poorly to make for a film that falls a bit short of expectation. An all-star cast mostly give good performances and alongside some action and humour the film can be at times entertaining and an exciting experience.

The story centres on four magicians who each receive a mysterious calling card leading them to an obscure address with many secrets inside. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young, intelligent and popular magician, Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a hypnotist who once had a good career but now finds pleasure by conning people out of money; the same can be said for Jack (Dave Franco) however he is much younger and a trickster, finally the fourth is an escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) together they will be known as the four horsemen. Four years after the calling card meeting they are together big-time stage illusionists and sell-out performers who climax their Las Vegas show by robbing a bank live on stage. With over $3 million flying around on stage and the impossible task looking achieved it puts the four magicians on the radar of FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his Interpol companion Alma (Mélanie Laurent).  However, this mystery proves difficult to solve even with the insights of the professional illusion exposer, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). What follows is a bizarre investigation where nothing is what it seems with illusions, dark secrets and hidden agendas galore as all involved are reminded of a great truth in this puzzle: the closer you look, the less you see.

Now You See Me starts off very promising with entertaining introductions and a great what seemed lead in to the main plot of the film, however as twists occur it becomes very confusing. Although filled with action Act 2 is far from entertaining and until the end of Act 3 Now You See Me stays very frustrating. The concept made by  Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt is very exciting and fun, however its over complicated twists somewhat make it into three separate films combing into one with a variety of stories told and interlinked.  The task has been mastered before in likes of Pulp Fiction, but here it just doesn’t.

The cast is filled with some very big names, Jesse Eisenberg takes on the lead and he achieves again this clever witty character just like his role within The Social Network.  Woody Harrelson brings humour in many ways again like in previous roles such as ZombieLand and for me is the standout character and performer, however other performances were very mediocre and average, including those by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.  The main element which proved to be the highlight for me was the special effects which showed the group’s illusions in full amazement and awe, and as an audience made us so intrigued within the first act of the film.

The flaws however all evolve around its story which is too confusing and executed very poorly by both writers and director alike and furthermore it seemed to drag for a while. My other criticism is how stories within the film are left unexplained and unfinished, such as the ending which should see the police eventually catch up with the four horsemen and furthermore the story involving Caine’s character was very swiftly forgotten by the writers and characters within the film.

Now You See Me is somewhat an easily watchable fun film especially for those more easy going cinemagoers, however at times it can prove to be a dragging and frustrating process. The story although a fun concept is what brings this film down and more so the average performances from some big name stars. Now You See Me in spells brings great entertainment and amazing illusions to screen, alongside some action making it just about worth-while.