Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, is a docudrama in which dates and locations are titled liberally from beginning to end, a fast-paced film nearly three hours long. In contrast with last year’s The Zodiac, which sought a psychological explanation of the San Francisco Bay Area’s famous serial killer, this year’s Zodiac presents psychological portraits of those who were obsessed with solving the crimes. The first portrait is of Paul Avery (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who published articles based on developments in the case until becoming so alcoholic that he was fired from the newspaper and, according to a title at the end, died of the effects of chain-smoking–emphysema. (In actuality, he continued as a journalist, later covering the Patty Hearst kidnapping, retired in 1994, and died in 2000). The second portrait features David Toschi (played by Mark Ruffalo), a soft-spoken SFPD detective and his partner, William Amstrong (played by Anthony Edwards), who follow various dead-end leads until Armstrong applies for a transfer and ultimately Toschi is removed from the case by his superior officer while under suspicion for writing a phony note purporting to be from Zodiac. The Toschi role, of course, had been the basis for Steve McQueen’s Bullitt (1968) and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (1971), but Ruffalo comes across as somewhat of a lightweight nerd in comparison. Keenly interested from the appearance of the coded message about the first murder by the Zodiac, SF Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (played by Jack Gyllenhaal) eventually replaces Avery and Toschi as the only one left who tries to solve the mystery about the identity of the serial killer. His indefatigable pursuit, which later prompts his wife Melanie (played by Chloë Sevigny) to exit with their two children and costs him his job at the Chronicle, results in the book on which the film is based. Graysmith, indeed, believes that he has identified the actual Zodiac killer, pervert loner Arthur Leigh Allen (played by John Carroll Lynch), but the circumstantial evidence that he has compiled by the 1990s is insufficient for an indictment. Titles at the end indicate that Toschi is now retired from SFPD and that Graysmith’s family reunited after he published his book. MH

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