The Killer (2023, dir. David Fincher)

by | Nov 10, 2023

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 113 mins

UK Distributor: Netflix

UK Release Date: 10 November 2023

WHO’S IN THE KILLER?

Michael Fassbender, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, Tilda Swinton, Arliss Howard, Emiliano Pernía, Gabriel Polanco

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

David Fincher (director), Andrew Kevin Walker (writer), Ceán Chaffin, William Doyle and Peter Mavromates (producers), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (composers), Erik Messerschmidt (cinematographer), Kirk Baxter (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

An assassin (Fassbender) goes on a rampage after a hit goes wrong…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE KILLER?

[This is a slightly re-edited version of our review for The Killer from its showing at the BFI London Film Festival]

Nobody but David Fincher could make a film like The Killer. It is cold, calculated, precise, and meticulously crafted up to the very last frame; which, in some ways, describes the filmmaker’s own recognisable style that has enchanted cinephiles for decades, from modern cult classics like Fight Club and Se7en (the writer of which, Andrew Kevin Walker, also provides the screenplay for this film), to more awards-friendly offerings like The Social Network and Mank.

However, The Killer might just be a bit too cold-blooded, even for Fincher, which turns an otherwise stylish and impressively made thriller into an empty rendition of a by-the-numbers hitman movie formula that feels like if Richard Linklater’s Hit Man – the far superior assassin-themed movie to play at this year’s BFI London Film Festival – took place in the same universe as No Country For Old Men.

The film, based on the graphic novel series of the same name, follows an unnamed assassin (Michael Fassbender) who we meet as he’s biding his time before his latest kill in Paris. Constant narration from him – which dominates much of the movie, to where the character has more narration than he does actual dialogue – details his detached, sociopathic approach to his deadly craft, which he enacts with sharp precision every time, except in this case where he ends up botching the assassination and is forced to flee the scene. Returning home to his place in the Dominican Republic, he finds the place ransacked and his girlfriend Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) all roughed up, prompting the killer to use his various passports and identifying documents to travel around the world and find, and of course kill, those responsible for the attack.

Walker’s script, split into five chapters, adopts an incredibly, almost deceptively simple template that can often be found in most assassination movies, which often goes as such: hit-man is hired to do a job, screws up said job, and goes on the run to hunt down the people who set him up. The Killer fits all too well into that template, but looking for any further depth to the story, its characters, and especially its emotional centre, is very much a fool’s errand. The plot is very straightforward, with no major surprises to speak of, or any last-minute villains that turn out to have a more sinister plan at play; it really is just one of those films where the main character sets out to achieve something and then does it, with very few real threats to his skills or ultimate well-being.

Not only does that remove a sense of tension because there hardly ever seems to be a situation where this guy doesn’t have the upper hand, but because the central character himself is never written to be particularly interesting, with Fassbender’s steely gaze and incessant sardonic narration doing all the heavy lifting, it’s hard to really care about him because we know next to nothing about him, including his relationship with the woman he spends most of the movie avenging.

The only reason that The Killer isn’t a completely dull experience is because, as often tends to be with a David Fincher film, it is exceptionally well-made. Fincher’s moody yet energetic style is all over this film, with Erik Messerschmidt’s steady digital cinematography complimenting Kirk Baxter’s punchy editing as it all ties into the director’s harsh and often brutal vision. This is incorporated into quiet scenes where Fassbender’s protagonist is silently observing his vantage point from the abandoned Paris office during the first chapter, with The Smiths constantly blaring through his earphones and on the soundtrack (which, in an effective bit of sound editing, it cuts to and from as we venture in and out of his mind), as well as a later, much rougher fight sequence that takes place in a dark room where you can still mercifully make out everything that is happening. Fincher constantly finds way to make his style present, and more often than not it makes the film feel a lot deeper and intriguing than it conceptually is.

Ultimately, though, the feeling you’re left with here is one of coldness, as you feel nothing for this main character who murders just about anyone in cold blood, while you are also not hugely interested in the story that turns out to have little depth to speak of. Its heavily cynical sense of humour is undermined by a constantly gloomy tone that only occasionally livens up (Tilda Swinton appears at one point, and brings with her a rather funny joke involving a bear), which even for someone like Fincher who has made numerous downbeat movies throughout his career feels like something of an overload.

It’s not top-tier Fincher by any means, which may make it a slight disappointment for fans of the filmmaker, but if there’s anyone who still deserves some respect for making a film so impressively cold-blooded while also being hugely stylish at the same time, it’s him.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Killer is a middling assassin thriller from director David Fincher, whose cold and calculated filmmaking matches nicely with the script by Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker, but unfortunately said script lacks the substance required to fully support this style, rendering it largely detached and narratively unengaging.

Three out of five stars

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