Longer-Ass Movie Weekend

The movies I saw this weekend were so long, that they require two posts to talk about!!

You know, Orson Welles once said that a movie should never be more than two hours long, and I am inclined to agree with the Maestro. (Though I will make exceptions for The Godfather, Brokeback, and Apocalypse Now.)

Anyway, the second movie I saw was Zodiac by David Fincher, the director of Seven and Fight Club. Zodiac is a masterpiece in a lot of ways, but ultimately it is just.too.long. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, seeing it literally ruined my whole day afterward…I was hungry, tired, cranky, and just wanted to go to sleep. But despite this it is an excellent and rewarding movie, up to a point.

It tells the story of the “Zodiac” serial killer who freaked out the Bay Area in the early 70′s through two lenses: that of the police and the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle. Zodiac was in love with p.r. and often sent letters to the papers, so the investigation of the case becomes just as important to reporter Paul Avery (the ever-genius Robert Downey Jr.) and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) as it is to the detectives on the case (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards). In a lot of ways, Zodiac reminds me of those two wonderful old film genres of the 30s/40s…the newspaper flick (usually always with Jimmy Cagney as a scrappy reporter) and the police procedural (like film noir, only a lot drier.) It excels as both, giving great verve to the Chronicle office scenes and nice insights into the cops and their working relationships. Eventually the case takes its toll on all of these people. The cops get burnt out and damaged, Avery’s life falls apart, and Graysmith becomes insanely obsessed with putting all the pieces together and ‘solving’ the case in the course of writing a book about it.

Another genius thing about Zodiac is how very well it captures its time and place. I think this may be the most authentic-feeling movie about the 70′s I’ve ever seen. It’s full of minute details that ring true. Colors, textures, clothes. And the music is great; captures the trippy feel without being obvious about it. The movie is also minute and detailed in the way it documents the Zodiac story. Nothing is left unturned. It is jam-packed with facts, and the film spans 20+ years! No wonder it’s so long. But despite the obsessiveness, the story never gets bogged down by the details. Instead it remains very enthralling, even suspenseful in parts, right up to the point where it just got too long for me. The frustrating thing is, I can’t think of how Fincher could have made the movie any shorter and still had a good film.

Zodiac loses coherence just after the 2-hour mark. After that, I just couldn’t keep up with (or care as much about) all the competing suspects, red herrings, false leads, or even recall what year it was supposed to be. It could have been me. I think my blood-sugar was plummeting by then, and I took a bathroom break that took me out of The Zone. But it was the film as well. Both with the pacing and with…I’m sorry Jakey G fans, but I have to say it….your boy just couldn’t carry an audience through this long haul of a movie. Don’t get me wrong; I thought he was -great- in the beginning, when Graysmith is just the awkward, boyish geek around the office. He was perfect. But he started to lose me in the second half, when he had to go from cute-and-geeky to full-on OCD manic-intense mode. Wasn’t buying it. I don’t think Jakey does intense very well. And a movie of this length desperately needs a strong screen persona (or as Orson used to say, a “screen-filler”) to drag the viewers through the whole length. I think someone with more (again) natural intensity and presence would have helped…maybe a Joaquin Phoenix or an Adrian Brody or a Christian Bale? Or even Peter Sarsgaard, to keep with the ‘aa’ theme?

Otherwise, the acting is across the board fabulous. Robert Downey is a joy to watch, as always. Mark Ruffalo was outstanding. Apart from RDjr and JG, Zodiac is made up almost completely by a cast of “That Guys.” You know the type; wonderful actors who, due to looks or age or whathaveyou, never make the top rung but who are consigned to type-parts forever. But they shine anyway, and you remember them and next time you see them you think, “Oh, it’s that guy!” David Fincher filled Zodiac with dozens of them, and they all really excel. From Anthony Edwards (‘That Guy from E.R.’) in a major role on down to the minor players (And did I mention that MY That Guy Donal Logue is among them? And excellent??), no one hands in a less-than-great performance. A cast of That-Guys at the top of their game is better than 250 naked Brad Pitts.

I could go on here but soon my review will be as long as the movie. Zodiac was really great; I just wish there was a way that I could have watched it in installments. If you go, you’ll be rewarded with a fine, brilliantly-acted character study and an engrossing mystery yarn. Just gird yourself beforehand. Get lots of sleep, perhaps bring some Vivarin, and pack a lunch.

One Response to “Longer-Ass Movie Weekend”

  1. Gutterboy Says:

    2 hr 40 min?

    Wow. I was mildly curious about this movie, but after reading that…no.

    Directors should really have to apply for a special dispensation to make a movie over 100 min or so. Usually less is more. Ironically, it’s TV that has stepped in to solve the problem; The Sopranos tells epic-length stories in hour-long chunks, and The Wire has revived Dickensian storytelling (in all its curlicues and complexities) in the same time frame.

    Maybe Zodiac should’ve been a miniseries and let the director really stretch out and roll around in the material.

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