It's probably fair to say that once you've landed on Armond White's shitlist, it's going to take a solid effort on your part to be removed. This has happened in the past -- Oliver Stone and Todd Solondz come to mind -- but on too many occasions Armond just can't get over the past indiscretions of certain auteurs. David Fincher's Zodiac provides a perfect case, not because it's a sudden masterpiece by an overrated director (AW says he's been wrongly "lionized" even though The Game and Panic Room were deservingly rejected by audiences and critics alike), but because Fincher's doing something different in his latest film and Armond just can't see it. Is the something new successful? Hell, no. But AW should give the man a little more credit than this:
Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt provide no definitive answers to the killer’s mysterious identity, yet that doesn’t hinder their prurience. Fincher’s talent? Knowing that violence not only sells, it thrills.
A strange criticism, in that Zodiac isn't particularly violent (three murder scenes that take up roughly fifteen minutes of a two hour and forty minute film), not in comparison to most Hollywood fare and certainly not in comparison to previous Fincher outings like Se7en and Fight Club. And it's not just the film's quantity of violence but its depiction of it -- Zodiac is in ways a thankful departure from Fincher's other serial killer film, Se7en, in refusing to celebrate the murderer and revel in his misdeeds. By concentrating on the realistic, stage-by-stage investigations of the police and newspapermen in the hunt for the Zodiac, Fincher actually drains the potentially titillating story of much of its tabloid allure. But Armond holds to the opposite, failing to properly distinguish Zodiac from Se7en:
Specializing in lurid stories of violence and madness, Fincher taps the zeitgeist. His 1995 hit Se7en was praised by nihilistic critics for its glorying in modern-day grotesques. Audiences were simultaneously appalled and agitated -- a peculiar mix of fear and excitement that initiated the Fincher cult. Zodiac continues this perverse appreciation through a tedious, numbly-paced police-procedural storyline and contrasting flamboyant digital-video technique. The usual artistic interest in human experience is replaced with Fincher’s almost immoral emphasis on film technology (that’s why he is idolized as a modern-day Kubrick).
If generous, one might actually call Zodiac Fincher's most human film, or the closest thing approaching human. This is where the film fails, however, because without his usual bells and whistles ("immoral emphasis on film technology"? Aside from being shot on hi-def digital video, there's little in Zodiac that's so overly stylized or technically gratuitous) Fincher is lost -- he definitely needs a lesson in how to create compelling characterizations. But, man, Armond can't even hint, or accurately represent, that Fincher's at least trying.
We realize close only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades, and Zodiac's effort doesn't excuse it from being bad. But Armond's whining invective is out of all proportion to the failure of this film -- ironically, his obsession with Fincher's ostensible appeal to "fanboys" (feminized by White's suggestion that the director gets them "wet") by creating "nerdy, soft-voiced" on-screen male surrogates stinks of the sort of macho bullying at the heart of Fincher's pseudo-anarchic Fight Club. Our favorite moment, though, and the one that exemplifies AW's inflation of Fincher's cinematic crimes, follows:
Problem is: Fincher’s technique distracts from a resolved mystery or narrative closure; it encourages apathy that suggests resolution and absolution are impossible.
Or it could be that the Zodiac Killer case has never been cracked. But whatever. Fincher can do no good, relatively or otherwise, in White's eyes.