Carrying on the tradition of glossy hitman thrillers like La Samourai, Leon: The Professional, Kill Bill, and, of course, John Woo’s own The Killer, David Fincher’s 12th feature, The Killer, is just as engrossing and swift, and as calculated and familiar as the others, and certainly a vigorous suspense drawer. Not since his brutal performance in 12 Years a Slave has Michael Fassbender been so merciless, as he plays an unnamed skilled assassin who finds himself on the run after a hit goes awry on a French ambassador. Even the killer’s girlfriend, who lives in the Dominican Republic, finds herself surviving from ruthless killers who are hellbent on finding the killer’s whereabouts. It’s there that our named killer turns the tables on being the prey and into the hunter, who embarks on a slow-burn journey to take revenge on those who gave clearance to try to kill him.
Unfolding with exhilarating set-pieces and thrilling action sequences, as well as a mishmash of bone-crunching stunt chorography and some muted tension, Fincher has once again created another notable film into his impressive body of work. Fincher’s latest film is a lean, energetic genre film that offers some wickedly dark humor and a brutal protagonist that you can’t help but not like. It’s like seeing Anton Chigurh as the protagonist for two hours, and Fincher’s character is every bit as baleful as any hitman character you have seen before.
Slated for Netflix release on November 10th, The Killer deserves to be seen on the biggest imaginable screen. In many ways, it’s heartbreaking to think David Fincher has now been directing films for over 30 years, and his latest film is only playing in very limited theaters before it streams on Netflix. Not to say that the film will not be a hit on Netflix, where millions and millions of subscribers and modern film buffs will get to watch the film in the coming weeks and months, because it will. But the film would be even more effective for them if they could just experience it in theaters. Even though the story is imitative on a narrative and even structural level, Based on the 1998 French series of comics of the same name by Alexis Nolent and Luc Jacomon, the script is adapted by Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker.
If anything, the film plays like a male hitman variation of Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire (which also starred Fassbender as a hitman). Like Haywire and The Bourne movies before it, the film has a globe-trotting narrative where it begins in Paris and each chapter moves from locale starting in Paris and moves to the Dominican Republic and various cities in the United States (New Orleans, New York City, Chicago). And like those films, the film’s heroine (Fassbender) is also an expertly trained, ruthless killer who is caught up in a web of conspiracy involving a shadowy law firm and financiers whose motives remain unclear. They obviously want to execute the French ambassador, and it’s probably for greed, but all those details are left murky. A little more depth and work on the script would have benefited the film immensely.
The first chapter sets up the first hit as we see the nameless hitman preparing to do the hit in a vacant, renovated apartment that happens to be across the street from where his target is. As we await the arrival of the hit, Fincher observes the assassin doing his daily routines, which consist of yoga, monitoring his heart rate on his Fitbit wristband, listening to the Smiths on a loop, taking cat naps, and Fassbender narrating the life and principles of a hitman. He describes his experiences as a hitman. He constantly repeats, “Stick to the plan. Do not improvise, and don’t get personal. Don’t show empathy; it is a weakness.”
As the story unfolds, it’s a very basic revenge saga where Fincher’s visual flair and Fassbender’s spry performance really anchor the film from feeling overly basic. Fassbender brings sophistication and menace to the role, one where he uses various disguises, identifications, and passports. He’s also technologically savvy with smart phones, computers, and websites. He keeps a large array of guns and ammunition in storage that could supply a standing army. One of the most thrilling sequences in the film involves a scene where he breaks into an assassin’s (Sala Baker) home in Florida that’s guarded by a pit bull. The intense scene literally had me leaning over my seat with jaw dropping suspense.
The stunt work and fight sequences in the film are some of the most impressively staged sequences of Fincher’s career. The story unfolds with some standout supporting performances from Charles Parnall as Professor Hodges, who uses his office inside a building to do dark money transfers for his clients, and Kerry O’Malley as his assistant named Dolores who finds her fate at a crossroads. Of course, the highlight of the film involves the confrontation with Tilda Swinton as The Expert, a fellow assassin who resides in upper New York. The conclusion of the film isn’t the most satisfying, the script is left a little underwritten, and it builds up so much promise to a conclusion that feels deficient. But even when the material isn’t the most refreshing or surprising, Fincher’s high level of filmmaking genius and technical brilliance in this action thriller is certainly a fair deal.
The Killer is now playing in limited theaters and will be available to stream on Netflix on November 12th, 2023