From its opening credits, The Killer immediately feels like David Fincher going back to his early thriller roots. It has all the hallmarks for what makes a Fincher film so special, and as a singular experience, it takes you on a ride that feels as first-person as they come even though the emotional depth on display here is almost non-existent. This, of course, is not a knock on The Killer as that is what makes so much of this two-hour journey seem so satisfying even if there is not much to chew on.
Based on the French graphic novel of the same name by Alexis Nolent, The Killer follows a cold and calculated hitman (Michael Fassbender), who after accidentally killing the wrong target, spends the film tying up loose ends after his employers put out a hit on his head. In many ways, it is a return to form for Fincher who, after the slow and biographical Mank, quickly establishes a snappy and sleek tone with stylistic opening credits set to the brilliant score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
What The Killer does so well is that it immediately gets us into the mindset of the titular unnamed assassin. Carried by a cold inner monologue that details his various mantras of “forbidding empathy” and “Anticipate, don’t improvise,” Fincher’s slick direction and writing are beautifully accompanied by Michael Fassbender’s almost lifeless performance. To be a killer is to forbid any humanity that you may have, and Fassbender puts on an unnerving display in the most interesting way possible.
He is a perfectionist who can’t let even the slightest detail slip by him and always focuses on the given plan, almost like the film’s director who is notorious for having the same mantra on his movie sets. This helps create a captivating character who becomes a driving force for the next two hours. Fassbender has extremely limited dialogue here with most of the assassin’s emotions only being displayed by his internal monologues, and the actor still manages to shine through with it. He definitely is one of the most interesting characters you will see at the movies (or in this case Netflix) this year due to the various peculiarities on display. The side characters unfortunately don’t get much to do here, but Tilda Swinton and Charles Parnell create an impact in the limited screen time they are given.
The film is very much a razor-focused experience that doesn’t let any moment feel wasted. It is a Fincher film in the most intimate manner where the director spends the first 20 minutes showing you the assassin staking out his kill, but never losing sight by making it not boring. The film rewards you for being patient and once the hammer hits the nail, it’s a tense and involving experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat for its entire runtime.
There is the issue of the film almost not having much emotional depth to it at first glance. The Killer is a movie that very much only focuses on the issue at hand and is not interested in fleshing out its main lead. It introduces us to new characters only to have them killed off in an unceremonious manner. And while that is a problem, it’s also a testament to just how true the narrative remains to its main lead. It’s a singular experience that revels in the mean spirit of its protagonist, and even in those moments, it delivers shades of dark humour that will have you cackling.
It also packs in some wild sequences that you will never see coming. One action scene involving the assassin and a target that he had been staking out remains one of the most visually impressive moments of the year. Fincher frames the close-quarters fight in a chaotic manner that sees Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography and Kirk Baxter’s editing be at its best. Also, the various assassination scenes here just create the perfect mood with payoffs that definitely deliver. And, of course, can’t forget the pulsating score of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that continues to cement them as one of the best-scoring duos working today.
Whatever the conversation may be around The Killer in the future, there is no denying that it definitely does fit in the high bar set by Fincher’s previous thrillers like Fight Club, Gone Girl and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. By no means is it his best film, but it is a watch that perfectly encapsulates all the idiosyncrasies of the director to deliver a worthwhile time that you won’t regret checking out.
The Killer is available to stream on Netflix.