The criteria one uses for determining whether or not a film is good, or by which one would recommend said film to someone else, is far from scientific (Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs up or thumbs down being on the low end of the scale and Paul Schrader’s canon somewhere out there in the ether); but today Deb and I happened upon a yardstick that seems as reliable as any. It being a fairly nice, hinting-at-spring kind of day, we decided to walk to the theater and back. Three miles to, three miles back. Six miles total. And, having done so, and having just taken the obligatory prophylactic Ibuprofen to assuage my already achy, exercise-deprived legs, I can honestly say that yes, I recommend Zodiac.

Though in my mind director David Fincher’s Se7en is a modern classic, two of his subsequent films, The Game and Panic Room (sorry to say, Fight Club has thus far eluded me), left something to be desired script-wise. No such trouble with James Vanderbilt’s screenplay (based on Robert Graysmith’s book) for Zodiac, a police procedural which, at 158 minutes, never bores. While it could be convincingly argued that this is just an $80 million version of a particularly compelling Law and Order episode, Fincher’s direction and the ensemble acting take it up several notches. Jake Gyllenhaal is fine as the cartoonist-turned-journalist Graysmith, Mark Ruffalo suitably dumpy as Inspector David Toschi, and Robert Downey Jr. splendid as Paul Avery, the doomed-by-his-own demons journalist. Among the several laudatory supporting performances, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, the always excellent Philip Baker Hall, and, coming out of nowhere, Candy Clark, all stand out. Chloë Sevigny, unfortunately, is wasted in the thankless role of Graysmith’s wife.

While I wouldn’t walk a mile for a Camel, I would walk six miles for Zodiac.

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