The ZODIAC script

Who is our greatest living director? This question inspires endless strong opinions from the film community. It’s the one argument we debate again and again, refining and revising as each new film from our personal pick is released for scrutiny. Scorsese is a popular choice (and Roger Ebert’s pick.) You got your Spielberg people, your Eastwood camp, and more inspired choices like Terry Gilliam, Quinten Tarantino, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, James Cameron and P.T. Anderson.

Me? I’m a David Fincher fanatic.

There are (arguably) only five directors who’ve truly learned to master all aspects of filmmaking. Many great directors know everything about performance, but care little about camera technique. (Sydney Pollack, Curtis Hanson). And many showoffs can do neat things with a camera, except film a credible relationship (paging Michael Bay). But directors who are masters of both…you’ve got Spielberg, Cameron, Jackson, Zemeckis, and Fincher.

Four of these directors have Oscars, and it would be difficult for me to explain why I think Fincher is better (plus it’s not the point of this article.) But when I watch a film from the other masters, I stare in awe and I have a deep admiration for what they do, but Fincher films transport me. I don’t just watch and regard a Fincher film, on first viewing I am in it, absorbing the experience.
While other directors build on or outright copy tricks from Fincher, he creates fresh cinema, trying new techniques every time out. (Anyone who saw the making of documentary on PANIC ROOM, knows what I’m talking about. And I guarantee you Jodie Foster’s performance in FLIGHTPLAN will be compared to her work here.)
Which brings me to the script for ZODIAC (or as I like to call it, “David Fincher’s Next Masterpiece.”) [FYI: The draft I read is dated 3/25/05 and runs a lengthy 189 pages.]

The script is tailor made for Fincher’s style. In particular, an early scene which follows a letter and our lead character in one long, super-tricky shot. But this is not just a trip down familiar territory for Fincher. He’s been handed some of the best sequences of his career. Incredible to read, I can’t imagine how Fincher plans to film some of these tasty bits (which is why I didn’t mind reading the script.)

There’s a shooting where pages of dreadful suspense lead to a slowed down description of the numerous gunshots. Another murder contains the warning “Dear God, we’re actually going to have to watch this.” Which brings me to another reason why I love Fincher. He makes thrillers for Adults and doesn’t pull punches to get a wider audience.

ZODIAC gives Fincher the opportunity to attain a whole new level of credibility. Like Cameron’s TITANIC and Spielberg’s SCHINDLER’S LIST, Fincher is making a film in the world of the real and the true. The Zodiac killings, which terrorized San Francisco in the late 60’s and early 70’s, are still an open wound for the city, in particular for the officers and journalists covering the case. The case was sensationalized for DIRTY HARRY (presented in a superb scene where the detectives watch the film, angry at Hollywood’s simplistic solution.) Like SE7EN, the script takes a methodical approach to the details, never overlooking the emotional toll it takes on the characters.
On top of that, I’ve learned that Fincher personally interviewed numerous people involved with the case, returning with pages of new material he wants to pack into an already stuffed script.

And so far the film is cast to near perfection. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist with the San Francisco Chronicle whose rare intelligence brings him into the case with the paper’s self-destructive Ace reporter, played by Robert Downey Jr. (who should knock this out of the park.)

Meanwhile Mark Ruffalo is Detective David Toschi who becomes obsessed with the case. I know that sounds cliché, but the character is given a lot of nuance and layer and feels very real on the page, like this is the guy that cliché obsessed detectives are based on.

Special mention to his partner, Bill Armstrong, played by Anthony Edwards. I especially liked how Armstrong doesn’t play 2nd banana, and gets equal time with Toschi. I hope Edwards doesn’t full under the editor’s knife, because he emerges as one of the most interesting characters and his final beat is my favorite moment of the script.

Gary Oldman plays a lawyer named Belli. Described as “a rotund attorney with a foppish fashion sense” the character reads perfectly fussy for Paul Giamatti. But Oldman can play anything and do a good job of it, so he’ll be more than fine.

What matters is Fincher has a damn near perfect story to tell. It starts as a white-knuckle serial killer film, turns into a “Law & Order” style detective piece (with a lot of character beats) and eventually unfolds into a JFK style re-examination of the clues and events as our heroes desperately try and find the killer. It’s a great read. I can only imagine how it will play once it goes through the Fincher process. Safe to say, there’s no film in 2007 I’m looking forward to more.


Anonymous judy said...

Enjoyed your comments. Since you read the script can you tell if the character played by Robert Downey jr. has a very large part in the movie. I know he is a key character in the story but will he be on screen as much as Jake. I am a huge fan of Downeys and hoping he gets a lot of time on screen.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

Downey Jr. has been handed one of those great supporting roles that win Academy Awards. He's pretty much the lead of the first section of the story while Jake's character is trying to join the investigation. Around the halfway point, Downey takes a backseat to Jake, and fades further into the background as the story continues.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous judy said...

Thanks so much for getting back to me. This sounds great!! I am really looking forward to this so much. I can't think of another movie next year I want to see this much! Fincher is such a genius. And to have him work with Downey is a dream come true. Thanks again!

4:40 PM  
Anonymous James Beswick said...

One of the most intelligent Fincher analyses I've read. With the exception of Alien 3, which I've put down to directorial experience, he promises and outdoes himself every time. Which, by the way, I feel only - ahem, Hitchcock - ever attempted before. The Zodiac killings should be the sequel to Seven on speed (the drug, not the movie).

9:14 PM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

I very much appreciate your comment, and I thank you, but I feel I must reply to your using the phrase "on speed."

Like with any Fincher film, ZODIAC is dense with information, which will surely be compounded by his skillful visual style. However, Fincher films are excellent at taking the time to savor all the wonderful little details, which make his films the antithesis of frenitic (and I mean that in the most complimentary way.) I expect ZODIAC to have the same attention to detail and a pace that will be dense, but no faster than his prior films.

I hope that didn't come off as nit-picky. I really do love and appreciate all comments...especially the good ones.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comments. I'm a big Fincher fan as well. In addition to the directors you listed as masters of all aspect of the craft I would add Spike Lee who incoporates cool visuals & angles (esp. see Do the Right Thing) with excellent character development.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

DO THE RIGHT THING is one of the great films of the last 20 years. No argument there. But over time I think Spike Lee has really lost his way, and films like HE GOT GAME and SHE HATE ME show a director who is far from a master of the craft.
Having said that I have high hopes for INSIDE MAN which stars my favorite Brit (Clive Owen), my favorite African American (Denzel), my favorite Actress (Jodie) and my favorite character actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor). I hope Spike works with them to get his game back on track.

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Joao Pacheco said...

Hi, i found your blogger recently but i like it very much. Great work man!!!!!! Anyways, that´s not the reason why i´m writing you.
I´m a huge Fincher fan, and i absolutely love all his movies. Yeah, yeah most people say that Alien3 it´s his worst movie, and it is his worst movie, but i think that he didn´t have room for all his creativity because that time he was just starting his brilliant career in movie industry.
The main reason why i´m writing you is because i´m absolutely impacient "Zodiac" and you are a lucky bastard, just kidding, because you already read the script. I want to ask you how did you found a way to read it, and also, how can i read it too.

See ya.

2:53 AM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

It was pure luck on my part. I happen to know somebody working on the film. They had the script at their house, and that's where I read it. (I was not allowed to leave the house with it, in case I was tempted to hit a copy store on the way home.)

7:46 AM  
Anonymous joao pacheco said...

Shut!!!! And i was hoping to read it, but well i´m glad you read it, that way you can tell us more about the characters and story of the movie, among other things. By the way, i think that another director with a huge sense of visual style is Darren Aronofsky, "Requiem for a Dream", is a great example and, another director coming straight out of music videos, is the "HUGE" Michel Gondry.

2:29 AM  
Blogger pinkpanther1586 said...

Hey mate, great site. Just saw your Zodiac script review and I posted a link to it on my blog. Check it out at And any other Zodiac or Fincher news please do tell!

3:38 PM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

I was going to do my own Zodiac site, but i checked out the above link and he's already got me beat. I added the link to my sidebar.

1:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Fincher fan, but more importantly, I am a huge Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Based on your comments I was glad to hear most of what you said. However, I was surprised that you gave very little detail about Jake Gyllenhaal and his character (the lead) Robert Graysmith. Just wondered if there was any info on Jake's performance now that filming is done?

Also, I saw this recent review of the script It had great things to say about the script and excellent thigs to say about Jake's character.

This is a quote about his role/performance:

"Graysmith is the best part Gyllenhaal has ever had, and I'm including Jack Twist in this equation. If he does it right he'll generate a lot of heat for himself, and I can't see how he wouldn't.

Graysmith is a very strongly written guy with a lot of struggle and frustration inside, and the pressure on him just builds and builds."



1:35 AM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

Sorry Rachel if I shrifted your actor. I like Jake, but there's a puppy dog innocence in every performance that always keeps me from giving him more recognition. I easily see him in the part, and he should do an excellent job.

And sorry about clipping off the end of your comment. I'm real strict about my site being spoiler free.

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cutshaw, thanks for your response. I think though you have missed out on an excellent actor in Jake G. Btw, you are not the ony one. I personally think his performances, though popular this year, have been severely critically underrated. Especially in Jarhead and Brokeback Mountain. Jarhead, imo, showed Jake as breaking out of the innocent mold. He is definitely not Jack Twist, or Donnie Darko, etc. in Jarhead. As for Jack Twist, the nuance he brought has been overlooked by so many critics. He was brilliant in the intimate scenes with Ennis. He conveyed Jack's longing and dreamer mentality. The intimacy, nurturing and love he showed Ennis, who was so stunted, was beautiful. The heartbreak is that he was willing to accept his love for another man and got killed for it. While most people focus on Heath's brilliant work, they missed out on Jake's brilliant performance. He has said in interviews that the point of his portrayal of Jack was that Jack was trying to hard. He wanted to be that cowboy that Ennis really was. But Jack was different and that was the point of his story. Yes, Jake, thankfully, got an Oscar nom and a BAFTA for his work, but I believe the critics have underrated him as an actor. Your comments about not giving him much recognition prove my point. My hope is that Zodiac is another step forward in Jake's adult roles and that he has a chance to prove his acting chops.

Also, here is an interesting review of Brokeback that details the excellence of Jake's performance



8:56 AM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

Rachel's article link keeps getting cut off. Click Here if you'd like to read it.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for fixing the link, cutshaw. Sorry to leave so many extra posts, lol


10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A huge Fincher fan, I've written about some of his many fantastic commercials for Ad Age (plus interviewed Darius Khondji, DP on Se7en - an amazing cinematographer...)

Love Fincher's oeuvre... one thing I find interesting is his decision to shoot this feature in uncompressied digital format - camera is called the Viper - any thoughts on this?

Have to say am not a Jake fan, but will keep an open mind - a huge Downey fan; with Fincher directing him, could he be up for an Oscar nod?

Thanks for your piece on the script - appreciate your time writing this article - hope to check back with you soon for additional info...

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

9:01 AM  

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