Monday 6 September 2021

Movie Review: Zig Zag (1970)

A crime thriller, Zig Zag (also known as False Witness) features a devilishly clever plot and frustratingly bad execution.

Insurance agent Paul Cameron (George Kennedy) believes he is going to die from a brain tumour. Determined to augment his life insurance payout and leave his wife Jean (Anne Jackson) with as much money as possible, he devises an elaborate plan to act as a shadowy informant and incriminate himself in the unsolved murder of a business executive, secretly channelling the reward-for-information money to Jean.

Paul is arrested and charged with murder. Defence lawyer Mario Gambretti (Eli Wallach) is oblivious to his client's objective and does his best to exonerate him. But when Paul ends up in hospital and undergoes emergency surgery, all his good plotting is threatened and he suddenly has to come up with an alternative, this time involving finding the real murderer.

A good example of a plot too clever for its own good, Zig Zag does not lack for smarts. The John T. Kelley script is filled with numerous twists, and allows its many fiendish secrets to seep out in small, almost casual increments. Director Richard A. Colla adds mystery by minimizing dialogue and focussing on intricate build-up, and adds disorientation with frequent jumps in time between the present and past.

The film's two halves offer distinct mysteries meshed into the ambition to maximize payout upon death. Paul first concocts a fake informant to incriminate himself and meticulously plants evidence accordingly. Then the focus switches to his frantic attempts to unveil the real culprit behind an unsolved murder, with the victim by all accounts earning his fate.

But all the narrative ingenuity is thwarted by weak delivery. Perhaps due to budget limitations, Colla focuses endlessly on needless details, and shortchanges important elements. Prolonged scenes are bogged down at the prison where Paul is admitted to await trial, and then (in flashback) at a noisy hut where he plants evidence. Meanwhile, essential plot details are barely mentioned, and the second half falls apart in fairly spectacular fashion. Paul conducts his amateur investigation of a high profile case with astonishing speed, and the antagonists remain a jumbled mess of undefined men and women. 

George Kennedy grabs a rare lead role opportunity and bulldozes his way through proceedings with appropriate inelegance. Eli Wallach is suitably animated as a lawyer sensing something is not quite right with his client's story.

Despite a surplus of intrigue, Zig Zag goes this way, then that, and unfortunately ends up lost.

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