A guide to recognizing your Robert Downey Jr. movies

The last two movies I've seen are A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (via Netflix) and Zodiac. Well, I watched about 34% of Dave Chapelle's Block Party, but I've already seen that and it was mainly an excuse to play around with my new AppleTV (which was a great purchase). But I pretty much saw those two movies back to back.

You can't call either a "Robert Downey Jr. movie" unless you're grasping at (cocaine-laced?) straws for a clever blog title. Downey Jr. plays the grown-up protagonist of Saints, appearing in about a third of the movie, and a crime reporter who is in... well, what percentage of seventeen hours is fourty minutes? He's in some portion of Zodiac.

I thought Saints was extremely well done. Some of the scenes that take place during the Downey Jr. character's youth in Astoria, Queens have the intensity of Spike Lee at his prime; other flash backs are more reflective and do an effective job of explaining how the Downey Jr. character got to be where he is today–a memoirist coming home to see his dying father. The present day scenes are as touching and believable as anything I've seen in a movie in a while. The fact that the movie is effectively a meta-memoir in which Downey Jr. is a proxy for the virgin writer/director Dito Montiel, who adapted his book to film, makes it even more my kind of movie.

Going back and reading Alice's comments on Zodiac after seeing it myself, I can see exactly why it is her kind of movie. Unfortunately, I don't share the same interests that Alice uses to identify with the protagonist, Jake Gyllenhaal, and the director, David Fincher–I can honestly saw that I spent one hour in Butler library as an undergraduate, and that was to read The Republic when it got too noisy one night on Carman 11. I found Zodiac to be an hour of somewhat compelling hour of setup followed by an hour and a half of... obsessive investigation and no payoff.

There's one scene towards what I thought was the end (I even woke Sheryl up to tell her it was the last scene) in which Gyllenhaal winds up in a basement with the man he currently believe to be the Zodiac killer. The scene provides what some genuine suspense. But the suspense has no true resolution, and the movie trudges through with another hour or so scenes of investigation and false leads. I interpreted that scene as Fincher thumbing his nose at those of us who came into the movie expecting something in the mold of his previous films. A more charitable explanation is that he was throwing us a bone to help sustain through the rest of the movie.

The hallmark of previous Fincher movies is the big reveal at the end. He obviously can't pull that off effectively with a movie based (quite meticulously) on real events. Instead, he pulls a meta-reveal on the audience–the serial killer movie we all thought we were seeing is actually a movie about doing research. Joke's on us, I guess.


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