The Killer Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, Arliss Howard, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, Gabriel Polanco, Kerry O’Malley.
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en, etc) and based on Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel of the same name The Killer is a neo-noir thriller that eschews most of the usual tropes of the hitman/assassin genre and is more of a character study along the lines of The Day Of The Jackal than an outright action movie in the vein of the Hitman, John Wick and Jason Bourne series.
The Killer takes us inside the psychology of an elite hitman with Michael Fassbender, who plays the titular, unnamed assassin, and delivers a stream of consciousness monologue detailing his meticulous planning, his methodical approach to his assignments and his thought processes. But despite his preparations and hours of patient waiting, staking out a five-star Parisian hotel room in preparation of the arrival of his target, something goes wrong, and his shot misses his VIP. He evades a police hunt and slowly makes his way home to his remote luxury hideout in the Dominican Republic, using a series of fake identities that draw upon characters from classic tv sitcoms, only to discover that he himself has become the target of an elaborate cleanup operation as a result. His girlfriend Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) has been brutally beaten and lies in a coma in the hospital.
The hitman sets out on a personal mission of vengeance to take down those he believes responsible for the attack. These include Hodges (Charles Parnell, from tv series The Last Ship, etc), the urbane New Orleans lawyer who is his primary contact for his assignments; the muscled Brute (New Zealand stunt performer Sala Baker) and the Expert assassin (Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, from Michael Clayton, etc) who jointly carried out the attack; and Chicago-based billionaire hedge fund manager Claybourne (Arliss Howard, from Mank, etc), the client who supposedly ordered the hit. But he finds that during his hunt he starts to bend if not break some of his own hard and fast rules that have ensured his survival over the years.
The Killer is director David Fincher’s first film since Mank in 2020, his fanciful biopic of screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz and the creation of his screenplay for the classic 1941 film Citizen Kane. His direction here is suitably measured in keeping with the nihilistic tone and deliberate pacing of the material. There is one quite violent extended bone-crunching fight scene in which the hitman confronts Brute in his Florida fortress, and here Fincher’s direction is quite muscular and gritty. He also effectively ramps up the tension with some cinematic tricks. Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, who was responsible for the Oscar winning luminous black and white cinematography on Mank, has done a superb job with the visuals here, giving the material a glossy surface. Kirk Baxter’s editing keeps things moving. The score from regular collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross adds to the film’s anxiety inducing narrative.
The Killer marks Fassbender’s return to the screen after a four-year absence. His hitman is a ruthless if taciturn character, and Fassbender brings a stoic quality, coldness, sardonic and cynical humour, steely determination and focus to his performance. And, like Anthony Hopkins in his Oscar winning performance in Silence Of The Lambs, his sociopathic character doesn’t blink throughout the film, a trait which is meant to reveal his lack of emotion and his coldness towards his targets and the world around him.
Distributed under the auspices of streaming giant Netflix, The Killer is a stylishly made, visually striking and intelligent genre thriller from one of Hollywood’s most reliable and interesting filmmakers. This may not be his best film, but it is still well worth catching.