March 17, 2006
Signs not good for “The Zodiac”
By Kirk Honeycutt
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Zodiac Killer was
California's Jack the Ripper, a serial killer who operated
briefly in a limited geographical area, then vanished into
history without his identity being discovered.
Like our old friend Jack, the Zodiac has inspired his share
of movies about his legend and lore including the original
"Dirty Harry." The latest, "The Zodiac," takes an unusual angle
and perhaps for this reason has sat on a shelf since it was
made in 2003.
The film directed by Alexander Bulkley, which he wrote with
his brother Kelly Bulkley and the help of Zodiac expert Tom
Voigt, focuses most of its attention on the fictionalized
family of a small-town cop, who is handed the impossible
assignment of capturing the elusive killer. While three
separate sequences of Zodiac murder are shown in fairly graphic
detail -- almost gratuitously so for the kind of movie this
wants to be -- "The Zodiac" is no crime thriller, but rather a
police procedural in which the cops make absolutely no headway.
The filmmakers essentially box themselves into an almost
existential situation where nothing happens other than the
unraveling of intimate relationships under insurmountable
There is perhaps a small audience awaiting this ThinkFilm
release, comprised of Zodiac obsessives and true-life crime
fans, but its box office outlook is nearly as bleak as the
policeman's futile pursuit.
On a limited budget, Bulkley does a fine job of situating
the story in a definite time and place. Images of the moon
walk, Nixon, Vietnam and Black Panthers flicker across TV
screens. Period details in the rural communities of the North
Bay Area read convincingly without calling too much attention
to the cars, hairdos and clothes.
From the first official killing on December 20, 1968, of
two teenagers at a desolate lovers' lane near Vallejo to the
murder of a cab driver in San Francisco on October 11, 1969, we
watch the slow disintegration of the family of investigator
Matt Parish (Justin Chambers) of the Vallejo Police Department.
Their lives unravel as pressure from his chief (Philip Baker
Hall) to solve the crimes mounts and Matt loses himself
emotionally in all the ciphers, codes and clues the murderer
uses to taunt the police and press.
His young son, Johnny (Rory Culkin), soon emulates dad,
collecting his own Zodiac memorabilia, news clips and clues in
his bedroom where he develops his own theories about the
astrological nature of the crimes. Wife Laura (Robin Tunney)
turns into the cliche of the cop's wife, worried half to death
yet unable or unwilling to turn the home into an oasis of peace
for her husband.
Bulkley often shoots actors in tight shots as if to
indicate danger lurks just outside the camera frame. Nothing
ever comes of this either. Scenes showing the Zodiac Killer
(Marty Lindsey) in his lair and even at three crime scenes are,
of course, speculative. The only journalist (Dale Coverling)
seen covering the case is portrayed as smarmy and smug as he
reports -- quite accurately -- that the police are clueless in
the matter. This is the cinematic equivalent of killing the
Few films have ever ended on such a low, anti-climatic note
as "The Zodiac." The actors invested enough angst and
desperation in their characters for them to deserve some sort
of resolution to the family's dilemma.
While letters from the Zodiac continued for a number of
years, claiming credit for 37 victims, he is linked
conclusively to only seven, of which five died. Voigt's Web
site, http://www.ZodiacKiller.com, makes a fairly convincing
case that a man who died in 1992 was the killer.
Sgt. Matt Parish: Justin Chambers
Laura Parish: Robin Tunney
Johnny: Rory Culkin
William Mapother: Dale Coverling
Bill Gregory: Brad William Henke
Jim: Rex Linn
Frank Perkins: Philip Baker Hall
Zodiac Killer: Marty Lindsey
Director: Alexander Bulkley; Screenplay: Kelly Bulkley,
Alexander, Bulkley; Producer: Cory Campodonico; Director of
photography: Denis Maloney; Production designer: Jack G. Taylor
Jr.; Music: Michael Suby; Costumes: Stephanie Portnoy; Editor: