“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” - Robert Burns
When you’re a fan of someone and their work, whether it’s a musician or filmmaker you tend to overlook their shortcomings however few there may be. David Fincher’s work is some of my favorite cinema ever made. When it comes to the basic nature and understanding of a thriller, there are few who do it even half as well as Fincher. From one of the greatest twist endings in Se7en to something that would otherwise be considered mundane like the Facebook lawsuits in The Social Network he crafts masterful works that are both timely and unbelievably entertaining.
Aside from some television work (Bring back Mindhunter!) and the one movie of his I just couldn’t get behind, Mank, it’s been nine long years since his last feature length thriller. Gone Girl was Fincher at the peak of his powers having just been robbed of completing what I think could have been one of the greatest trilogies ever made, The Millennium Trilogy, which he started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. His interpretation of the Dragon Tattoo is in my opinion one of the best thrillers of the last twenty years. Better than any other project he had worked on previously, Dragon Tattoo demonstrated his willingness to take the subjects of his films to their most extreme and unceasingly dark. But since the days of Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl, cinema has been hopelessly void of a true David Fincher thriller. Thankfully that wait is finally over.
The Killer is Fincher at his most sleek and stripped. The titular character, nameless throughout the film, is mirrored by the very story for which he blazes through. He practices meticulous precision and discipline in every facet of his enigmatic profession. The film as a whole operates in the same manner devoid of excess in either prolonged storytelling or extraneous characters or character development. Much like the story and its main character, any matter beyond the parameters of this man finding those who wronged him on such a personal level simply do not matter. In fact it’s best to imagine nothing exists beyond this man’s singular focus of killing anyone and everyone involved.
Michael Fassbender himself has been on a bit of a hiatus as well not having starred in anything since the horribly executed Dark Phoenix in 2019. Luckily he makes his return in the confident vision of Fincher, the stellar score of Ross and Reznor and the curator of Fincher’s vision, the stellar cinematography of Erik Messerschmidt. Messerschmidt who has worked on Fincher’s last two projects including the criminally canceled Netflix series, Mindhunter.
Fassbender demonstrates his ability to adapt as if a chameleon blending in with his surroundings. Now this isn’t to say he’s quietly dull. In fact it’s his adherence to a strict code set by his character that allows him to shine with an immense amount of freezing cold indifference as if he’s nothing more than a sociopath who found his calling as a murderer for hire. It’s in the moments immediately following something unexpected within the confines of his educated guesswork that in my opinion he shows himself to be the most sinister and maniacal person in any room. The unexpected moments usually consist of someone being snuffed out and it’s then that he demonstrates his technical and physical abilities as a fighter and assassin at his most vicious. The moments right after, in the seconds of the deafening quiet is when he returns to an almost factory setting as if nothing abhorrent just occurred. It’s his ability to “become human” again that is wholly unnerving.
A signature of Fincher is the steadiness at which he glides and zooms and cascades from high vantage points to ice cold close ups. It’s especially noticeable in the scenes that would normally depict vibration. This can consist of something in his movies as simple as a car ride smoothly driven whereas the bumps and imperfections of the asphalt highway would normally show themselves in other filmmakers’ projects. It’s all movement appearing to be set on a track as if everything from the camera capturing the perfect angle to the vehicle eventually reaching its destination are all riding on a track, each living within its own dolly shot. I’m not sure of his actual intent, but from my perspective this makes for ethereal, almost dreamlike scenes. Just remember these are Fincher movies which means these dreams he’s creating are often of the nightmare variety.
In one of the most exciting scenes of the year, The Killer features a fight between Fassbender and another rather large individual. Having experienced violence many times in his films from the cold bloodedness of Panic Room with the masked man to the mindless brutality of a faceless killer in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s usually steady and clear. It’s in the unexpected approach that this particular fight scene really comes to life. The vibrations of grown men being slammed to the ground or a massive fist bursting through a piece of drywall are present and constant making for a sincerely visceral explosion of violence. You can feel the ferocity of each man trying to get the better of the other as both try to survive this epic clash of life and death. With the combined efforts of tremendous sound design and editing and fantastic fight choreography it’s a real highlight of a genuinely outstanding thriller. Make no mistake though, it’s simply one brilliant moment among a plethora of others in Fincher’s triumphant return to the genre that made him a household name.
The Killer is a character study interrupted by moments of shocking savagery. From the opening sequence to the closing of the final chapter we are rooted deep within the mind of this hired hitman. At times he demonstrates qualities resembling a human only to flip a switch and dispose of actual humans with a disturbing amount of apathy. We can fall prey to his efficiency as if he’s a contractor simply demonstrating how to construct a house for a family of four when in reality he’s luring us in only to cold-cock us with his unwavering aloofness. The Killer is concise and efficient and confident in just about every regard. It’s stimulating and engrossing without ever sacrificing quality in story for the sake of superficial excitement.
He is a killer yes but the story examines why and how someone like this husk of a human being could possibly be stirring among us. It is a demonstration of man’s ability to shut down emotionally to the complete detriment of others. And Fincher does so without any intention of apologizing for the lack of catharsis. Basically, it is what it is and this man is what he is. Take it or leave it.
Rated R For: strong violence, language and brief sexuality
Runtime: 118 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, Sala Baker
Directed By: David Fincher
Out of 10
Story: 9/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals: 10
Buy to Own: Yes. It streams on Netflix, November 10, 2023.
Check out the trailer below: