The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.
Zodiac [2007, Fincher]
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
Zodiac is one of the only David Fincher films that I hadn’t seen, and I was particularly intrigued by its strong cast and dark subject matter. The movie revolves around the infamous Zodiac killer that terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. While the cast is extensive, the story focuses mainly on those working to find the killer and reveal his identity. Three men in particular become obsessed with the story: Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a newspaper crime reporter who is trying to decrypt the letters that the killer is sending the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper’s political cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall), has better luck at this and becomes outright consumed with determining the Zodiac’s identity. Finally, there is Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who is officially assigned to the case. All three men reach incredible lows as the case gets the best of them. This is a story of obsession more than anything.
Zodiac is a rather exhausting film, clocking in at a whopping 157 minutes. There is certainly a lot of story to tell, and the character development is a major plus, but I still feel a good twenty minutes or so could have been removed. This issue aside, the film does a stunning job transporting viewers into the 1970s. Everything from the vintage clothing to the old muscle cars to Mark Ruffalo’s epic sideburns help encapsulate the era. Fincher’s directing, as expected, is wonderful, and the cast delivers strong performances overall. There’s a lot to like about Zodiac, but it didn’t blow me away like other Fincher films. 7.5/10
Unforgiven [1992, Eastwood]
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman
When it comes to Clint Eastwood, I still have a lot of catching up to do. I have missed out on a lot of his most well-regarded films over the years, and Unforgiven was perhaps my most glaring omission. This 1992 Best Picture winner really impressed me, and it is easily in the top three or five Western films I have ever seen. Eastwood stars as Will Munny, a reformed outlaw (and recent widow) who is persuaded to take on one last job to make money to support his two young children. He recruits his old partner-in-crime, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), to help him out, and they form a reluctant trio with a tough-talking youngster (Jaimz Woolvett). Their journey brings them to the hard-living town of Big Whiskey, where a group of prostitutes have pooled together a reward for whoever kills the two men that sliced up the face of one of their workers. The town is run with an iron fist by Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a mean son-of-a-bitch who has banned all weapons from those passing by.
Unforgiven is dark and violent, but it tells one hell of a story. The movie has a bit of a slow burn (which I loved, though it may grow tedious for others) before exploding into chaos and mayhem during the last twenty minutes. The drastic change near the end was so explosive that I still can’t stop thinking about it. Many of the characters seem like decent folk at first, but their evil ways start to seep through over time, clearly showing that no one ever really changes. The progression of Little Bill stands out most, as he seems to have decent motives for his town (no weapons, no crime), but his violent behavior makes him absolutely frightening. Eastwood, Hackman, and Freeman are all amazing here, and I also really enjoyed Richard Harris’s character of English Bob, a sniveling coward of a man. The cast, the set pieces, the story of revenge and change… I loved so much about Unforgiven. A great film, and one of my favorites so far in this project. 9/10