Acclaimed director David Fincher is synonymous when it comes to the thriller and crime genre’s – he’s made a career off of lonely, isolated, dangerous but brilliant characters. Themes that regularly pop up across his filmography. Accounting for some of the most polarizing films the two genres have seen in recent memory, Fincher is at his best with characters that have clear, unwavering objectives to complete, who will take morally compromising routes to get to the finish line. Tyler Durden, John Doe, Mark Zuckerberg, Nicholas Van Orton and the list goes on from there. The Killer, Fincher’s latest film steers back into his comfort zone, focusing the lens on a disconnected and flawed character – exactly where Fincher wants to be.
Adapted from the French comic book series of the same name by Alexis ‘Matz’ Nolent and Luc Jacamon by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, The Killer follows an unnamed assassin known only as the titular Killer (Michael Fassbender) on a job days before his current hit takes place. Immediately, you feel the Killer’s isolation as he lives, eats and sleeps in an abandoned room in Paris across from the hotel his mark is supposed to be at. Leading up to the hit, the Killer narrates his process and state of mind while on a job.
“Anticipate. Don’t improvise. Trust no one. Never yield an advantage. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight. Stick to the plan. Forbid empathy.” This code of conduct that the narrator lives by gets repeated over and over throughout his 118-minute journey of revenge after his initial hit goes awry. It’s a character you can’t and shouldn’t relate to. He’s no hero nor is he a good person. Just like many of Fincher’s characters over the years, the narrator comes off as unsympathetic – his code implies that much. He will stop at nothing, leaving no stone unturned until he gets what he wants.
Once the bullet fails to hit the correct target after days of staking out the hotel, calming the mind with music, yoga and offering McDonalds fun facts, the narrator returns to the Dominican Republic to find his home broken into and his girlfriend Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) attacked to tie up loose ends by the narrator’s handler, a lawyer named Hodges (Charles Parnell). One after the other, the self-proclaimed isolated and empathetic narrator breaks his code, turning into a hypocrite, acting on impulse, fighting a personal battle that invaded his privacy and he didn’t get paid for.
Within the narrators globetrotting murder spree journey, the skilled assassin stays unremarkably one dimensional. The character never breaks monotony or engages in self-exploration to be someone you intentionally root for. That’s never been the M.O for any of Fincher’s main characters. We always find them at their lowest, letting inner demons take control and unravel the tightly wound grip they think they have. Early on, the character falls on the shallow side of the spectrum as someone that’s predictable, following the same methodical routine until that very routine causes the downward spiral. And maybe that’s the point – the narrator is supposed to be closed off from civilization in a vacuum to see the purpose in the execution by Fincher.
When it comes to Fincher, there are several concepts you can count on that will make an appearance. For one, frequent collaborator and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (Mank, Mindhunter) sets the environmental tone using desaturated and one note colors to make up the world the narrator sees through. Muted and un-vibrant, the bleakness sets in, reminding us that of human complexities. Even further, the narrator blends into this environment wearing nothing but solid earthy colors, beige being the standout among the rest – hiding in plain sight as to not make any noise or raise an awareness to his position as a deadly assassin for hire.
Returning for another collaboration is Nine Inch Nails front man and band mates Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross nailing down another pulse pounding, disorienting score that’s an attack on the senses but as it always does, fits Fincher’s vision he maps out for his film. 5 collaborative efforts later and the pairing of Reznor, Ross and Fincher is a 3 headed monster.
In the role of the narrator, Fassbender gives an exceptional performance mirroring Edward Norton’s narrator in Fight Club. His quiet, intimidating ferocity makes him a perfect candidate for a Fincher film. Think of Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl as she fakes death or Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Fassbender channels all of Fincher’s characters creating a perfect storm of destruction. Taking up most of the screentime, the supporting cast all do their best to share in the spotlight with Fassbender. Tilda Swinton as a scene mate nearly takes away from Fassbender – both providing an unforgettable moment together.
For its shortcomings in character development, layers and exploration of the human condition, The Killer fits comfortably in the mold of David Fincher’s sandbox. Beyond the stylistic and methodical approach he directs with, The Killer doesn’t reach the high standard we’re used to with a Fincher film. As the titular character, Fassbender provides the face of a chameleon – he brings an emotionless bore of a character some life and poignancy and you’re lucky if he will never know about you. Aside from the usual suspects that make a Fincher film standout among the oversaturated genre’s, The Killer’s derivative narrative stays subdued – meticulous in structure but not the total knockout you come to expect.
Screenplay By: Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed By: David Fincher
Music By: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, Tilda Swinton
Where to Watch: Netflix
Edited By: Kirk Baxter
Release Date: November 10, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 58 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Based On: The Killer by Alexis Nolent & Luc Jacamon