The specialty of David Fincher as a director lies in thrillers. But there is also more to his talent than that focus suggests because his style has translated to other genres. However, his latest film is right in his wheelhouse. The Killer has style and smarts, while the confident direction elevates it above most of the thriller genre.
Fincher has wanted to adapt the graphic novel The Killer for a long time and now he has. The story is about the unnamed title character, an assassin (Michael Fassbender) who is meticulous and methodical about his work. He is very successful because of this. He is on a job in Paris when he thinks the target is never going to show up. Then he does get his shot and things go wrong. He accidentally shoots someone else. That is not just a problem in his line of work, it can be a catastrophe. He is soon confronting the people he works for before they can come after him. And he will be pushed to the limits of his abilities in the process.
The stylish presentation of the cerebral script of The Killer is what makes it compelling entertainment. The casting also works, and Fassbender’s lead performance is particularly effective.
“It’s amazing how exhausting it can be to do nothing.”
This film has a unique feel from the start. The viewer is immediately tuned into the main character’s headspace through voice-over. It starts the film and carries through to the end. In that way, the story qualifies as a character study wrapped up in a thriller. We become well-acquainted with this man’s mindset as we watch him prepare for his work and hear his narration. It doesn’t take long to understand that he’s intensely controlled and precise.
This protagonist is a very interior character. He operates in a very zen way, favoring routine over emotion. He listens to The Smiths, does yoga, and repeats mantras to himself. Things like “Stick to the plan” and “Trust no one.” These things have obviously served him well for a long time. And you can also see how good he is at the logistical details required for what he does. He knows exactly how to get into any place he needs to and how to blend in to be forgettable. He’s like a well-oiled machine. So it makes sense that when he messes up is the only time we see him come close to a break in his calm exterior.
Fassbender conveys all of this to just the right degree. This is a stoic character but Fassbender makes sure he doesn’t feel emotionless. I think he has the appropriate physical presence for the role as well. I was convinced that he could do all the things the character did. There’s a brutal fight sequence that works in part because of that, for example.
“Empathy is weakness.”
It helps even more that this character exists in a story that is well-structured. Each time he goes to a new location, he has a different opponent to deal with. It’s efficient, just like the lead character is, and it lends a good thematic layer to the story by making assassinating (is that a word?) feel more like a mundane, 9-to-5 job. Besides that, there are intriguing hints here of an entire shadowy organization of assassins, kind of like in the John Wick franchise, that has a lot of interesting potential.
Fincher’s directing technique doesn’t get flashy or ostentatious. He doesn’t feel the need to do anything like the “through the coffee pot handle” shot in Panic Room. Instead, Fincher has attained a more mature and formal style. It’s a good match with the story itself. A bit emotionally removed, maybe, but still a strong visual foundation. You can count on him for the right close-up or angle for a certain moment.
While you listen to the protagonist’s voice-over, you realize there’s quite a bit of intellectual dividends to be collected from this script. More than you can find in most thrillers. As we engage with the title character and how he sees the world, this film becomes more than a genre experience. The Killer proves itself to be intelligent and well-made, which is to be expected from Fincher.
4 stars out of 5
The Killer is streaming on Netflix.