Directed by: David Fincher
Premise: Based on the graphic novel. An assassin (Michael Fassbender) accidentally kills the wrong person. He goes on the run while tracking down the people who hired him.
What Works: The Killer is a story of a professional assassin and the form of the moviemaking matches the disposition of the title character. This picture is efficient and lean with a precise and controlled execution. At the same time, the film and the character display little details that give both some color and texture such as the assassin ordering a McDonalds sandwich but removing the bread before eating it. Assassins are familiar characters in cinema but The Killer distinguishes itself by linking this story with some of the qualities usually seen in serial killer movies. The picture suggests a parallel between types of characters who usually occupy very different sorts of movies and in doing so The Killer unsettles the way we understand cinema violence. The end of the movie, in which Fassbender’s character confronts a fellow assassin and then his contractor, extends that understanding of violence past the immediate murders and into economic and social contexts. The Killer isn’t about gunfights and chases. There’s actually very little of that in the movie, which may disappoint action movie aficionados, but the point of The Killer is the mundanity of it all. It’s a stark portrait of the world and the filmmakers pack this picture with implications about what it takes to physically and psychologically survive.
What Doesn’t: The Killer features fairly consistent voiceover with Fassbender’s character explaining his professional philosophy and narrating some of his choices. The voiceover is delivered well and is occasionally witty but the film doesn’t necessarily need it. The opening in which the narration is most constant is also the place in which it is most unnecessary. The visuals tell us what we need to know and the narration tends to overexplain what’s evident to anyone watching closely.Like many of David Fincher’s films, The Killer is crafted with polish and precision but it lacks depth of character. The superficiality of the movie is part of the point; Fassbender’s character must be cold and methodical to do his job. But the film also points out that this assassin has a love life which means he has the capacity for empathy and compassion. The film silos those parts of his life in a way that comes across artificial and unbelievable.
Disc extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: The Killer is a very well-crafted picture. This isn’t a shoot-em-up picture and it may be polished to a fault, losing character depth in the process, but there’s a bit to unpack in the film’s implications.
Episode: #974 (November 19, 2023)