Zodiac (2007)

I almost don’t have enough good things to say about Zodiac, this was a really fantastic film that I’d been meaning to watch for such a long time and finally got round to with the Directors cut on blu-ray which has great special features which is why I mention it.

It’s quite an undertaking to take a true story that is so well known and that still has no satisfying conclusion and to turn that into an intensely gripping and suspenseful film. I think one of the main ways Fincher manages this is through his very filmic style and the way he plays with the genre in this film. The opening scene which depicts the killing of Darlene Ferrin plays like it comes straight out of a stereotypical slasher film, with two good looking teenagers being attacked alone in a car in the middle of nowhere, we’ve seen it a million times before. What Fincher does is really interesting, he takes these scenarios that have become cliches through their exposure in 90s slashers, I imagine at least in part thanks to the Zodiac killings, and he presents the with a clean and precise style. We are never made to forget that we are watching a movie, like we might be with the more journalistic style of a film such as Zero Dark Thirty for example, we are so aware that we’re watching a film that we start to forget that what we’re watching is true and that it happened. This tricks the audience into expecting filmic tropes to manifest themselves, you expect Graysmith’s family to get attacked, in the stunningly suspenseful basement scene we even fear for Graysmith despite the fact he wrote the book this is based on. It’s quite sobering in retrospect to watch the killings take place and to realise that we’re not watching a fiction, and from the special features it seems as though the deaths are presented very accurately and unlike the editing, they’re not quick or clean.

Even if you aren’t as drawn in by the style, the case is fascinating and the film is well worth watching to learn more about it. Despite the film being almost 3 hours long, it never drags for even a second, you constantly want to learn more and at the end you are desperate for it to keep going.

The film reminded me why Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors working today, his characterisation is distinct but he makes sure to keep it subtle and never lets it take over film, as ultimately his character isn’t the focus. The film also serves as a strong example of what I don’t enjoy about Mark Ruffalo’s acting, he makes strong choices in his characterisation but by god does he want us to notice. He’s so set on using this breathy affectation in his voice that he barely has any variation and it draws attention to the performative nature of his acting. Thankfully he never goes to the same extremes of Spotlight so it isn’t too distracting, I just thought it was an interesting contrast to Jae Gylenhaal. As usual Robert Downey Jr is Robert Downey Jr but he’s enjoyable and he injects nice, and needed moments of humour without being too huge a part in the film. John Carroll Lynch is a standout with very little screen time but a lot to work with in. I was also happy to see Chloe Sevigny who I always like and a surprise Jimmi Simpson Cameo.
I don’t feel that I can talk about the acting without mentioning the costume design, I don’t know much about this side of things, but it was hard not to notice how perfectly the clothes reflected the characters in the film.

This film has stuck with me for a good week after watching it, since seeing it, I have been incredibly paranoid when I’m in a room with windows and it’s night outside feeling that I might be being watched. I never felt particulary scared in the film, outside of the aformention basement scene and the lakeside killings (it takes a genius to make a killing in broad daylight so suspenseful), but the true nature of the film has made it stick with me horribly.

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Incendies (2010)

Playing a bit of catch up with these initial posts, unlikely to have much insight at all

I watched this because I love Denis Villeneuve as a director, whilst I thought Prisoners had a bit of a sloppy ending and Sicario was perhaps slightly over rated, I loved the direction and the visuals, also Arrival was one of my favourite films of last year.

It goes without saying that Incendies was wonderfully directed, the opening sequence with the boys getting their heads shaved and the bus sequence are particularly good demonstrations of this fact. It seems fairy clear that the conflict at the centre was the Lebanese civil war despite never being explicitly said and the writer and director both wanting to keep it ambiguous. I thought it was a fascinating conflict and it was presented with the complexities and moral gray areas which I really appreciated.

The two lead actresses were really very good and I enjoyed the film’s structure paralleling their journeys. I thought Simon was far too uninterested in his mother’s dying wishes but I guess that’s understandable. The tragedy of Nihad was brilliant, despite his reprehensible actions, we truly do feel for him when he learns the truth and we understand how he came to do what he did through his upbringing.

For all the positives of this film, the visuals, the music, the acting, the interesting political situation it presented, I didn’t love the story by the end, I thought it was far too rife with huge coincidences that took me out of the narrative. Upon further reflection (watching the special features) I realise that the film was trying to emulate the narrative of a classic Greek tragedy and they did do that fantastically and very cleverly, I’m just not sure such heightened emotional drama necessarily meshed that well with such a grounded backdrop. The mode of story telling reminded me a lot of films like The Burning Plain and The Edge of Heaven which made it feel really quite predictable.

Overall I thought it was a fantastic film and I really enjoyed the technical aspects, although much like other films by Denis Villeneuve, I ended up feeling quite let down by the story towards the end.