Friday, November 10, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

An ice-cold black comedy from David Fincher. You’re shocked, I know.

“Redundancies, redundancies, redundancies,” narrates the Killer (Michael Fassbender) as he prepares for his next hit. “Leave nothing for the elves with their tweezers, forensic baggies, and DNA kits.” He goes on at length in a measured, delicate monotone, outlining his battle-tested methodology and frosty nihilism while waiting for his next mark to appear in the window of the Parisian penthouse across the way. It all sounds very professional, very sleek and cool, the kind of master criminal manifesto we might expect from director David Fincher and his Seven scribe, Andrew Kevin Walker. Our Killer is cool, we think. Fincher’s camera hovers pornographically over his sniper rifles and latex gloves, cuts in close on his eyes as he tracks movement on the street below. He must be cool, we think. “My camo is based on a German tourist I saw a while back,” he says, referring to his bucket hat and Hawaiian shirt. “No one really wants to interact with a German tourist.” Yeah. This guy is cool. Careful. Precise. He takes aim at his target, waits for his heart rate to drop, and fires.
But then something remarkable happens: He misses. He miscalculates. He blows a hole through an innocent sex worker and flees the scene in a panic, dismantling his weapon and tossing the contraband in a dozen wastebaskets on his way to the airport. We get the sense that this has never happened to our Killer before, but is that true? “Never improvise,” he repeats. “Stick to the plan.” But it’s not more than a few minutes into Fincher’s adaptation of Alexis “Matz” Nolent’s graphic novel series that we start to wonder how one can haphazardly improvise their way across several continents and still maintain this illusion of prescience and foresight. What plan, man? Certainly not one that finds your girlfriend, Magdala (Sophie Charlotte), beaten within an inch of her life in retaliation for your failure. Certainly not one that forces you to go to work on your handler (the great Charles Parnell) with a nail gun for double-crossing you. For all his proselytization, all his laconic swagger, all his sleek and sexy accoutrement, absolutely nothing in The Killer feels by design.

But then we remember that this is David Fincher, he of the eighteen-hour work days and catastrophic budgetary overflows that have been known to drive thespians and studio executives alike into all manner of tizzies (tizziae?). If not for Fincher’s involvement, in fact, The Killer would be little more than a one-note crime thriller populated by stock characters, bland dialogue, and a visual aesthetic so well-worn that it’s practically fraying at the seams. But this is David Fincher, the brutal and exacting taskmaster whose obsessive need to control every inch of every frame has earned him one of the most complicated legacies in Hollywood and produced a body of work that resists mainstream adulation so violently that many of his fiercest critics simply lose patience and give up before they can appreciate the wit, texture, and staggering intelligence he injects into each film. No, The Killer is in on the joke, it turns out. In fact, it’s laughing so hard that we barely notice how thoroughly the title character misjudges his own competence. This isn’t Zodiac, folks. It’s Fight Club.
Well, a middle-aged Fight Club, maybe, a film about an acerbic, emotionally-distant sociopath whose rejection of conventional civilization feels about as self-imposed and childish as the one suffered by that other spindly narrator. That’s not to say The Killer is another screed against misguided generational angst — Fincher’s poking more fun at his own reputation than he is at anything else — but it’s easy to see why the project aligned with those same sensibilities that produced such dark and uncompromising thrillers as Panic Room and The Game. It’s also easy to see how the lukewarm popular reaction to 2020’s prestige-hunting Mank might have incentivized a return to the antisocial gutters, and some may argue that The Killer is a retreat, a waste of Fincher’s considerable talents. In truth, it’s something entirely different, a lithe and energetic actioner that underplays each moment just enough so that we’re able to pick up on the hits of satire seeping through the margins. It’s almost an anti-John Wick, a warrior’s tale that refuses to show its work.
Fassbender is great, of course, simmering at such a low, sexless boil that we’ll wonder how he could possibly be maintaining a loving relationship with an actual human woman. Guest players appear for glorified — but welcome — cameos, including the aforementioned Parnell, Tilda Swinton as a fellow master assassin, and Arliss Howard as the Killer’s final prey, a sniveling billionaire who inadvertently provoked his considerable ire. Each one is a tiny star in a great Fincherian constellation, a gaggle of details and minutiae (see: shrink-wrapped hard boiled eggs and a break-in engineered by overnight Amazon delivery) that make us wish every director took such joy in crafting each onerous detail captured on screen. In fact, if The Killer fails to match the lofty themes of The Social Network or the ardent brutality of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, then we might celebrate it for the way it fetishizes that minutiae, the way it treats recycling vans, pocket protectors, and The Smiths’ discography as tools of a deadly trade. It may be simple, but The Killer is anything but easy.

The Killer is now streaming on Netflix.

1 comment:

  1. Damn, that fight with The Brute was... brutal. It's not the first time we see Fassbender in a crazy hard-hitting fight. Remember Haywire's hotel room fight, with Gina Carano?