Just to be out in the open, I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to David Fincher. He’s one of those directors that when he does a film, I don’t care what the plot is; I’m going to watch it. It’s not so much that I think he’s the best director (though he’s one of my favorites), but I simply just love his style. He’s one of the few filmmakers working where you can watch a couple seconds of his work and instantly know you are watching a David Fincher film, and for me, I find his work to be what cinema is all about. It’s always a work of art, and sometimes the plot can have a habit of ruining things. Alien 3, for example: not a great movie, but it looks great … Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac, those are his masterpieces and they look fantastic. Even Mank: sure, it is a divisive film, but still looks great. Despite how busy David Fincher is with projects, his shows on Netflix and music videos, it’s his movies I really crave, and when you realize the last thriller he had out in theaters was 2014 with Gone Girl, I was more than a little excited by the announcement of him filming The Killer, from a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (who wrote the brilliant Seven). There was no way I was going to miss this film, but for this one I knew I had to rein in my emotions and proceed with caution … So with the cinematic shots fired on the screen, how did I feel about the new Michael Fassbender assassin film?
After the stylish opening credits, you’d expect this to be a fast-paced thriller, but immediately this film subverts your expectations as it takes you into the mind of the assassin credited as The Killer (Michael Fassbender). We’re introduced to this life of a killer, not with excitement, but with the tedium of waiting for the one perfect moment to take that shot and eliminate the target. This first act really sets the tone for the rest of the film. If you are gripped by the tension that builds with him finally getting his moment and taking his shot, then I feel you’ll have fun with the rest of the film. As for those who may find the tedium a bit too much and may nod off, well, this film may be something you should pass on. Despite this being a quasi-revenge film, it is definitely a slow burn with an ending that definitely will subvert your expectations of the genre. The thing is, that’s what I feel this film is all about … It brings us into what is most likely the real life of a killer for hire. It’s not a life of gunfights and car chases, but instead a lot of waiting in empty rooms, being lonely, and having serious trust issues towards everyone around you.
As we see The Killer going out for revenge after a hit has gone bad and one of his loved ones is attacked in an act of retribution, we see him breaking his own rules and the consequences that follow. The narration is needed, because we don’t get to see the character speak very much here. A lot of Fassbender’s performance is through his facial expressions and how he uses his body. I’m curious to see how this performance would be without the narration and how effective it would be. What’s kind of brilliant about this performance is what I also feel will hurt Fassbender’s chances for an award, which is how unremarkable he is. The whole point of the character is that he’s supposed to blend in and be forgettable to those he interacts with, to simply be a part of the scenery, and most of the film he does just that. When the man has an outburst, it’s usually only when someone is being killed.
I do feel the film thrives on being anticlimactic, and it has one plot hole I can’t ignore. So our protagonist, The Killer, botches an assassination, and in return two hit men show up at his home and go after his partner and seriously injure her but don’t kill her. The Killer essentially breaks all his own rules when he goes after those responsible. It feels like this should be building to something, but we never quite get there. For instance when he meets with “The Expert”, played by Tilda Swinton, she’s supposed to be this equally great assassin, but why would she let his partner live? Why leave a loose end? There’s a laundry list of other questions I have, but that gets into spoiler territory.
I also have to wonder how much David Fincher related with the character and his attention to detail. It’s no secret how Fincher is known for being a bit of a perfectionist, and this film fully takes on that attention to detail with every shot, edit, and sound cue. This is technically one of his better films. I mean, really, it’s hard to find anything to be critical of with this film; it’s just a matter of whether you like the story or not.
The film definitely has a sense of humor and is self-aware. While I haven’t read the source material the film is based on, the graphic novel by Alexis Nolent, this does have Andrew Kevin Walker’s fingerprints all over it. The narration is pretty dark, but humorous, but then there are the subtle in jokes like with the aliases that he uses throughout the film. Then there is his obsession with the Smiths, who are basically his soundtrack to keep him calm, and this leads to the film having a pretty awesome soundtrack in my opinion. Which leads me to the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. These guys have been the go-to duo for Fincher for a while now, and again they deliver an effective and subtle score. In the sequence between The Killer and The Brute, the score is what makes the sequence so effective in my eyes.
While reading up on the film, I saw that this somehow cost $175 million to make … I hope that is an inflated number because I simply don’t see how this could have cost so much to make, despite the amount of takes Fincher likes to do per scene. This is a solid, low-key thriller that appears to be mostly practical effects, because there really are no big over-stylized action sequences. The one major action sequence is still fairly simple when looking at films like John Wick and Mission Impossible, but to be fair, it definitely is a lot more effective.
At the end of the day, I really liked this film. I enjoyed it a lot, and I feel when I watch this again I’ll grow to appreciate it more. While this is getting a limited theatrical release before it hits Netflix, I don’t expect this to set the box office on fire. This is one I feel is going to get a bit of a cult following. The best way I can describe this film is how Michael Mann made a gritty, true-to-life film about being a professional safecracker in his film Thief — that is what Fincher has done with the professional assassin with The Killer.