Premiering at the Venice Film Festival before its brief theatrical run, The Killer takes us into the world of an international assassin as he meticulously prepares for his latest assignment. After a fateful near-miss, he is on the run, ready to face his employers – and himself – as he embarks on a globetrotting manhunt he insists isn’t personal.
Based on the French graphic novel of the same name created by Alexis Nolent & Luc Jacamon, the film is a reunion of sorts for Fincher and his previous screenwriting collaborator Andrew Kevin Walker, who worked on the screenplays for Seven & Fight Club in the mid-to-late 1990s. Fincher also brings back his more recent cinematographer of choice, Oscar winner Erik Messerschmidt (Mank, Mindhunter) & two-time Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (The Social Network, Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
While he may have taken a small detour with his more personal project Mank, director David Fincher has returned to his love of society’s underbelly with The Killer. Contract killing under a network headed by an International Trade Attorney and his former student. Working for the wealthy elite. Covering their tracks with extreme precision. Utilizing modern conveniences like WeWork stations, Amazon pickups, & Postmates deliveries to complete missions. Sounds like the perfect playground for the man who made Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, & Mindhunter.
What he may find even more appealing than its grittier & more brutal profession is the calculated approach and painstaking attention to detail that the job requires. The man known for his 50+ takes on one scene or scrapping solid performances because an extra wasn’t walking right may come to appreciate a man who needs to lower his heart rate down to below 60 to shoot his target from long range through glass windows. If the devil is in the details, then this movie is going straight to Hell. As the Assassin lead says after blowing up a house with a Molotov cocktail, “This is what it takes … What you must commit yourself to … if you want to succeed.”
Regardless of his motives or inspirations, Fincher surely found his muse with his lead Michael Fassbender. An actor with the range to perform as a cold & careful intellectual in Steve Jobs AND a mysterious black ops cleaner in Haywire must have made him the top of Fincher’s must-hire list. Lucky for us that Fassbender took the assignment. He sucks us in with his monotone narration explaining the virtues of listening to music as a healthy distraction or his “not giving a f*ck” or “flying no flag” mentality and then blows us away with his athleticism & ferocity when duty calls.
The film also boasts a small, but mighty supporting cast featuring the likes of yet another Oscar winner in Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), the always impressive Charles Parnell (Top Gun: Maverick, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One), & veteran standout Arliss Howard, who Fincher used brilliantly as studio head Louis B. Mayer in 2020’s Mank.
While Fincher fans will revel in The Killer’s return to form as a dark, moody thriller, they should also embrace the increased volume of understated comedy that has been largely absent since the days of Andrew Kevin Walker’s early scripts. Even in the most frantic moments, Fassbender’s narration will turn to Fight Club-esque quips like “WWJWBD … What would John Wilkes Booth do?” or “How’s I don’t give a f*ck going?”. He’ll even launch into laments about his profession including “When was my last nice, quiet drowning?” or “It’s amazing how physically exhausting it is to do nothing” – a personal favorite of mine as it might be the Film Critic’s anthem. Viewers who enjoy the little details might also smirk at the sitcom character aliases The Killer has to utilize from time to time, though Archie Bunker might be a little much if you’re trying to be inconspicuous.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention The Smiths, the definitive British indie rock band of the 1980s and the sonic wallpaper for The Killer’s professional endeavors. This detail is so perfect it hurts. The steady melodies enhanced by the forlorn croons of Morrissey with lyrics so haunting that OF COURSE a contract killer would love. Lines like “I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does” from my personal favorite Smiths song “How Soon is Now?” almost serves as a quiet longing for The Killer as we subtly encounter his secret romance that motivates his revenge. The closing credits song “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” also serves as the most romantic a cold-blooded assassin can get with its darkly winking chorus “… to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die”.
While I enjoyed the film quite a bit, the only thing holding me back from fully embracing it as top-shelf Fincher is the feeling, or lack thereof, after the film concludes. Typically, in these types of films, we are treated to a cat & mouse chase or an equal to counter the precision & skill of our hero or anti-hero; in The Killer, we only see him as he breezes through his revenge as he attempts to escape the life he knowingly created. While I enjoy the level of detail and execution, the film, much like its protagonist, has a lack of depth, feeling, or messaging that can leave an absence by the film’s conclusion. Lamentations on security & fate don’t do much in its wake. The ride is worthy of its brilliant creator in Fincher, but its takeaways are too minor or subtle to linger like the best of his filmography.
Overall, The Killer is a carefully crafted & surprisingly playful look at a dark & vicious profession. Its brilliance lies in its mood, its level of detail, its humor, and its ice cold performances. Fassbender delivers as only he can, blending stoicism, athleticism, & biting humor as he methodically weaves his way in and out of danger. While its execution is top notch and frighteningly engrossing, the substance may leave you wanting more; But damn if it isn’t a worthwhile ride.
Watch The Killer If You Liked
- The Mechanic
- Get Carter (1971)
- Leon: The Professional
- Le Samourai
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
MVP of The Killer
The Florida House Scene
For a movie that tries to keep an even keel like the pulse of its protagonist, the revenge sequence at the Florida house will have you tossing your Apple Watch out the window. From drugging pit bulls to throwing a Molotov cocktail, this scene cranks up the action to an absurd degree (not a complaint). The fight choreography is well crafted, well staged, & utterly satisfying even if most blows would knock out Muhammad Ali and don’t stop our assassin from his endgame.
A return to the things that made us fall in love with Fincher over 25 years ago with more humor than you’d expect. Time to order a bucket hat & Hawaiian shirt for Halloween next year.