Synopsis: After a fateful near miss, an assassin battles his employers and himself on an international manhunt he insists isn’t personal.
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, Tilda Swinton
Director: David Fincher
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Until recently, I had come to terms with the bitter truth that the David Fincher I wanted as a director wasn’t coming back. The David Fincher I was looking for was the filmmaker who gave us meaty thrillers like The Game, Panic Room, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and his great unheralded classic, Zodiac. These were twisty mysteries that were cool to the touch but executed with the efficiency of a surgeon who could operate on the brain with their eyes closed. Fincher had the magic hand, and while we were briefly teased with that talent again in 2104 with Gone Girl and partially with the creation of Mindhunter for Netflix, it vanished into the ether as Fincher focused more on passion projects.
As an artist matures, it’s natural that they want to grow in their craft, and the more they are established, the more they want to work on projects that mean something to them. The problem with that, at least in the film world, is that when a director (or an actor) has attained a following and then veers off course or disappears altogether, it can be hard to keep up with the scent once it’s gone cold. Lauded, though he was over the years, it wasn’t until 2020’s more serious Mank that Fincher made it into Oscar’s golden glow…but it was also his most commercially aloof work yet.
If you’d forgotten when David Fincher was cool (Fight Club cool), you’re about to have your memory jogged with the release of The Killer. Fincher’s newest film is an adaptation of a French graphic novel that began in 1998 and concluded in 2014, and it reteams him with Andrew Kevin Walker, his screenwriter for his breakthrough hit, 1995’s Seven. Razor sharp and ice cold (dress warm when you see it), like all of Fincher’s films, it’s a technically flawless achievement in entertainment that draws you in despite the best efforts of its central character to keep you at arm’s length. It’s a lean and mean machine of a film that puts Fincher right back on top.
A nameless assassin (Michael Fassbender, Prometheus) waits in an abandoned WeWork office space in Paris. The who, what, when, and why of his assignment aren’t known to us, so while the camera follows his daily routine, we hear his voiceover, dissecting the job and his life. Is this how he keeps himself (relatively) sane during these long periods of waiting for his mark? How many years has he rehearsed this speech and gone over it in his head? Walker’s script gives us the bare minimum of info about the assassin, just that he’s good at his job and is not above turning the tables if retribution is necessary.
You see, he’s made a costly error, and the client is demanding some recompense. That recompense is a cost the assassin isn’t willing to accept, and it sets him on a mission to make a handful of people very sorry they felt the need to make it personal. He’s not making it personal, mind you, but he will ensure that this type of response doesn’t happen again.
Cleverly finding ways to get close to his targets and extracting information by any means necessary before moving on, he leaves no debt unpaid and calculates each move as he was trained to do. Running into characters identified as The Brute (Sala Baker, Bullet Train, who engages Fassbender in a bone-crunching face-off), The Expert (Tilda Swinton, Asteroid City, swinging by for a whiskey-swigging cameo), The Lawyer (Charles Parnell, Top Gun: Maverick) and The Client (Arliss Howard, Concussion) throughout the film that’s divided into distinct chapters by Walker gives the movie a bit of an episodic feel that can halt some momentum, but The Killer practically radiates BDE.
Initially announced in 2007 for Fincher with Brad Pitt’s production company, I don’t doubt Pitt was considering taking on the titular role, but Fassbender is unquestionably the better option. There’s a way Fassbender can play a blank that still retains a decent amount of emotion; his handling of an unyielding commitment to carry out violence could read psychotic, but there’s more life behind the eyes that keeps the character innately human. The lack of emotion works most of the time, but you wish that when someone arrives ready to play like Swinton always does, she sits across from a character at a different stage in his journey. Their scene is the only disappointment in the film, though it did make me wonder what it would have been like to have Swinton as the lead…
Clocking in just under two hours, there’s an unmistakable sense of glee attached to the otherwise dark goings-on in The Killer. I think that’s mostly Fincher stretching these thrilling thriller muscles again, even starting with a brief opening credit scene that, while not as extensive or detailed as he has done in the past, still takes time to set the titles apart from the specific action of the movie. Up until this point in 2023, we’ve had many exciting movies released from reputable directors, but coming into the last few months of the year, the big guns are coming out, and Fincher’s The Killer has taken aim and hit the bullseye.