Many of the best newspaper dramas — Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View — are really detective stories, where the reporter takes the place of a cop to sleuth out the truth. Zodiac is based on a real case, about a serial killer in San Francisco in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Real cops were on his trail, but so was a Chronicle political cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who went outside his beat, tracked down leads over a dozen years and gradually settled on a plausible suspect.
Director David Fincher is as obsessive as Graysmith; the movie is a mosaic of tiny details, smudged memories and a journalist’s intuition. Put together, the pieces form the image of a killer — and a larger portrait of the lone, dogged print reporter as hero. Take note, please, all of you thinking of canceling your subscription to your local paper.