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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Zodiac can be found here.
Beginning in 1969, San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes obsessed with the case of self-acclaimed 'Zodiac' who has been taunting the police and the newspapers with his letters and cryptically-coded messages. In his search, Graysmith is aided by heavy-boozing crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), SFPD Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Inspector Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) as well as detectives in Vallejo and Napa, handwriting expert Sherwood Morrill (Philip Baker Hall), and Linda del Buono (Clea DuVall), a convict who knew one of the Zodiac's victims. His investigation leads him to suspect Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch), a school employee fired for touching students in indecent ways. However, all of his evidence is either circumstantial or hearsay. In 14 years, Graysmith still has no hard evidence.
Yes, the movie is based on Zodiac (1986), a nonfiction book by American true crime writer Robert Graysmith about the unsolved serial murders committed by the 'Zodiac Killer' in San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The book was adapted for the movie by American screenwriter James Vanderbilt.
The movie claims to be based on "actual case files" and uses actual reports to construct the killings. In the Vallejo and Lake Berryessa attacks one of the victims survived to describe what happened. In the Paul Stine shooting witnesses saw the attack occur. In the first attack which can be conclusively attributed to the Zodiac, that of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, there were no survivors or witnesses and so the film makers decided to not show the killing rather than try to reconstruct it based on forensic evidence. Robert Graysmith believes that in the Faraday/Jensen killing the Zodiac parked behind their car and approached as he did in the Ferrin/Mageau shooting. Faraday and Jensen appear to have been exiting the car and Graysmith believes that Zodiac shot Faraday first, after which Jensen tried to run and was shot.
The different actors were employed to match the varied physical descriptions of the Zodiac Killer by eyewitnesses and surviving victims. For example, the suspect seen at the scene of Paul Lee Stine's murder was described as quite heavy, and is here played by Bob Stephenson, while the man indicated to be Zodiac (although never positively correlated with the Zodiac killings by the police) and who threatened Kathleen Johns was described as rather slighter and smaller and is here played by John Lacy. For that reason, the Zodiac's first confirmed murder at Lake Herman Road (referenced several times in the movie as having occurred just prior to Christmas 1968) was not shown because there were no survivors or eyewitnesses that could give a description of the murder scene. Interestingly, John Carroll Lynch, who plays Arthur Leigh Allen, the man who's ultimately accused of the Zodiac killings by Robert Graysmith (a theory seemingly supported by the film), was not used in recreating any of the crimes of the Zodiac Killer.
On 16 August 1991, 22 years after he was shot by the Zodiac, Mike Mageau (Jimmi Simpson) is asked by Vallejo PD officer Geroge Bawart (James Le Gros) to meet him in the Ontario, California airport terminal in order to identify a photo of the man who shot him. Mageau readily identifies Arthur Leigh Allen. In the final scene, Mageau says, 'The last time I saw this face was July 4th, 1969. I'm very sure that's the man who shot me.' The movie ends, and the following postscripts appear:
Following Mike Mageau's identification of Arthur Leigh Allen, authorities scheduled a meeting to discuss charging him with the murders. Allen suffered a fatal heart attack before this meeting could take place.In 2002, a partial DNA profile, that did not match Allen, was developed from a 33 year-old Zodiac envelope. Investigators in San Francisco and Vallejo refused to rule out Allen as a suspect on the basis of this test.In 2004, the San Francisco Police Department deactivated their Zodiac investigation.Today, the case remains open in Napa County, Solano County, and in the city of Vallejo, where Arthur Leigh Allen is still the prime and only suspect.Inspector David Toschi retired from the San Francisco Police Department in 1989. He was cleared of all charges that he wrote the 1978 Zodiac letter.Paul Avery passed away on December 10, 2000 of pulmonary emphysema. He was 66. His ashes were scattered by his family in the San Francisco Bay.Robert Graysmith lives in San Francisco and enjoys a healthy relationship with his children. He claims he has not received a single anonymous call since Allen's death.
While he claimed credit for dozens of murders, the police have only been able to reliably link Zodiac to four attacks for a total of seven victims, two of whom survived: (1,2) David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen on December 20th 1968 in Benicia, (3,4) Darlene Farren and Mike Mageau on 4th of July 1969 in Vallejo, Mageau survived, (5,6) Bryan Hartnell and Cecilia Shephard on September 27th 1969 at Lake Berryessa. Hartnell survived, and (7) Paul Stine on October 11th 1969 in San Francisco. These are all cases where Zodiac offered up information which would only be known to the killer and the police. For example in the first two crimes he described the positions of the bodies and the brand of ammunition used. In the Stine shooting he sent a piece of Paul Stine's shirt with one of his letters.
No, he was not. There have been multiple suspects, but none have even been arrested. If he is still alive, it is believed he must be at least 60 years old. It is presumed that he is dead. The case is still officially open and is regarded as a "cold case". According to Wikipedia, the case was reopened again sometime before March of 2007.
... at the beginning when the kids are shot? 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' by Donovan, which also plays at the end. Interestingly, Donovan's daughter, (Ione Skye), has a role in the film as Kathleen Johns, the woman who is almost kidnapped by Zodiac....when the cabbie is shot? 'Bang Bang' by Vanilla Fudge.
Yes, there are two other movies that detail the Zodiac killings: The Zodiac Killer (1971) and The Zodiac (2005).
The directors cut offers five minutes of new plot scenes. Most of the news scenes are slightly extended dialogue sequences but there are also three new longer scenes. A detailed comparison can be found here.
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