Directors in the Oscar race

As serial-killer stories go, “Zodiac” was never going to please everybody. It’s long, meandering, full of digressions and dead ends — all by design.

Because no one was ever apprehended in the notorious San Francisco serial killings, the story becomes a study of all-consuming obsession. “It’s about the need to know and not the need to know,” Fincher explains. In other words, for those involved, closure became as important as identifying the actual culprit.

Shaping the rigorously factual account was a challenge, given the overwhelming and often contradictory evidence. “We needed a distillation, but we also had to make it dramatic,” Fincher says, “because it doesn’t ultimately lead to somebody standing up in court and saying, ‘There he is.’ For every detail, you question, ‘Here’s a part of his journey that may or may not be valid for this piece of entertainment.'”

Instead of the expected answers, Fincher offers exhausted cops who eventually give up on the investigation — not your typical whodunit. “There are other ways of engaging audiences than just upping the explosion-o-meter,” he says.

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