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It’s not the Ulli Lommel version or the David Fincher version of the Zodiac serial killer story. No this is something entirely different and if you haven’t heard of it then you’re probably not alone. Based on the Zodiac killing around the San Francisco Bay area in the late 60’s and early 70’s, The Zodiac is surprisingly uninteresting and often times very dull.
If you’re not familiar with what happened, during the late 60’s a serial killer went around randomly shooting people while sending cryptic notes and codes to newspapers for printing. Unlike the Ulli Lommel, which attempts to get inside the killer's mind (almost impossible since the Zodiac killer was never caught), The Zodiac takes a look at the case from a different angle, that of the men behind the investigation and the impact the murders had on their families and the community.
Justin Chambers stars as Sgt. Matt Parish. Chambers does a credible job as rural police sergeant trying to track down a killer that leaves no clues. His fall from a hard working, loving, father and husband to an obsession with a killer which eventually leads to him alcoholism and emotional abuse is one of the few things going for this film. Robin Tunney is his wife who must sit idly by as her husband slowly destroys everything around him. She does an adequate job considering that she isn’t given much to work with.
What hurts the film most is that the script isn’t strong. Too much time is spent with Rory Culkin’s Johnny Parish, Matt’s son. Large portions of the film are shown through Johnny’s eyes. He’s only about 15 and spends most of his time sneaking into his father’s office to look at the murder scene photos and notes. Johnny is there to provide an outside observance to what’s going on but instead just drags down the film. His scenes add nothing to the overall weight of the movie and his exposition could have been done in a better manner. The only time he actually finds something that could benefit the case his father dismisses it outright.
Director Alexander Bulkley does a decent job directing but lacks the cinematic flair necessary to really bring the story to life. The communities where the Zodiac killer struck were terrified to the point of panic. Bulkley touches on this but never shows how paranoid these people really became. Bulkley isn’t solely to blame for the film's shortcomings, his brother Kelley Bulkeley (different last name spellings for some reason) also helped in creating the mediocrity. The Zodiac fails to give its audience someone with whom they can empathize. Sgt. Parish isn’t likeable enough to feel sympathy for as his life spins out of control. If he had come across as more worthy, the audience would gladly empathy with him as he becomes more and more obsessed with a killer tearing his life and community apart.
The Zodiac will probably open, close, arrive on DVD, and then end up in the cheap bins before the much more anticipated David Fincher version comes out later this year. If you are a fan of the story or you like films based on serial killers, you might enjoy this one. Everyone else will probably wonder why this is such a big deal and why we should care.