“With a runtime of over two and a half hours, Zodiac super-charges every minute with a maximum of minutiae,” writes Village Voice critic Nathan Lee. “Dizzyingly dense, intricate in the extreme and relentlessly swift, it’s the most information-packed procedural since JFK, though far more restrained when it comes to theorizing.

“The screenplay, meticulously engineered by James Vanderbilt, has been adapted from a pair of books by Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist at the Chronicle who glommed on to the Zodiac case and eventually took it on as his life’s work. Everything has been checked against verifiable sources, then staged with the utmost fidelity and precision; note how Fincher resists dramatizing the events in Paul Stein‘s cab, sticking to a representation of his known route.

“The result is an orgy of empiricism, a monumental geek fest of fact-checking, speculation, deduction, code breaking, note taking, forensics, graphology, fingerprint analysis, warrant wrangling, witness testimony, phone calls, news reports. ‘I felt like I was stuck in a filing cabinet for three hours,’ complained one viewer. Exactly!

“Termite art par excellence, Zodiac burrows for the sake of burrowing, as fascinated by its own nooks and crannies as Inland Empire. It operates with the back-and-forth insistence of a scanner arm, gathering, filtering, digitizing, and storing an immense catalog of analog enigmas. It might have been titled A Scanner Darkly.”