The Killer

Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker (based on the graphic novel series by Alexis Nolent and Luc Jacamon)
Stars: Michael Fassbender (The Killer), Tilda Swinton (The Expert), Charles Parnell (The Lawyer–Hodges), Arliss Howard (The Client–Claybourne), Kerry O’Malley (Dolores), Sophie Charlotte (Magdala), Emiliano Pernía (Marcus), Gabriel Polanco (Leo), Sala Baker (The Brute), Endre Hules (The Target)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2023
Country: U.S.
The Killer
The Killer

Until I watched The Killer, I did not think it possible for David Fincher to make an unengaging film. His work over the past three decades has spanned several genres, although he returns time and time again to stories of crime and punishment and seriality. That, combined with the fact that The Killer reunites him with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, who penned his first masterpiece, the brutal, gut-wrenching serial killer drama Se7en (1995), would seem to suggest that Fincher would be in top form. Alas, that is not the case, as The Killer, despite the signature Fincher look of bruised colors and sharp compositions and several compelling sequences, is the very definition of pro forma, moving through a familiar narrative of betrayal and revenge without offering much that is new or enthralling.

Based on the French graphic novel series written by Alexis Nolent and illustrated by Luc Jacamon, The Killer begins with great promise, as we are introduced to the titular, unnamed assassin (Michael Fassbender) on his latest assignment, where is he kill a prominent politician (Endre Hules). This involves him staking out the victim by taking up residence in an empty office in the high-rise building across the street from a hotel and waiting, waiting, waiting for the victim to check in. The film’s opening sequences are a study in unexpected depth of a familiar genre trope, as we are brough into the killer’s mundane work of waiting and watching while trying not to be detected. Fassbender, who at first appears to be playing a kind of version of the soulless sex addict he played in Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011), has an enigmatic screen presence, and it is impossible not be intrigued by his routines, which he drolly narrates in voice-over (a technique that the film largely abandons, which makes it feel tacked-on, as if some studio executive was worried that the audience wouldn’t understand what they were watching).

But, the film quickly slips into formula, as the hit goes wrong and Fassbender’s character must go on the run. But, he soon discovers that his handlers have attacked and almost killed his girlfriend (Sophie Charlotte) in an attempt to get information from her in order to kill him, so he goes on the offensive, methodically tracking down and killing everyone on the ladder above him, which includes his handler, an otherwise unassuming lawyer (Charles Parnell), and a fellow assassin (Tilda Swinton). He does this with an arsenal of weapons and stashes of cash and fake ID’s that he seems to have everywhere; if he has a superpower, it is access to whatever he needs whenever he needs it wherever he is.

The film, of course, looks and sounds great, with Fincher reteaming with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (Mindhunters, Mank) and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who previously won Oscars for their work on Fincher’s The Social Network and the Disney/Pixar film Soul). Yet, at this point we have come to expect that a David Fincher film will be the pinnacle of “stylish,” which makes it all the more incumbent that he deliver emotional and narrative engagement that, at the very least, matches the look. That is not the case here.

The Killer is neatly divided into chapters with on-screen titles, an organizational scheme that underscores its central problem, which is that it has individual moments of merit, but no unifying engagement to hold it together. The killer’s surprise meeting at an upscale restaurant with Swinton’s assassin has an icy candor that is compelling, and the brutality with which he utilizes a nail gun against an adversary has an unexpected nastiness. The best scene, though, is his brawling battle in an apartment with another assassin known (aptly) as “The Brute” (hulking stuntman Sala Baker). Their knock-down, drag-out fisticuffs, which is captured primarily in roving long takes, is the stuff of stinging and often darkly humorous violence, which suggests the kind of film The Killer could have been, rather than the relatively monotonous slog that is turned out to be.

Copyright © 2023 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2)

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