Killer, The (United States, 2023)November 14, 2023
The Killer is pure David Fincher – moody,
atmospheric, gloomy, and suffused with a thread of dark, sardonic humor.
Despite the lack of dialogue, there’s a lot of talking. The film uses a running
internal monologue to take the viewer into the thoughts of the title character.
Although some may find this device grating, it provides an unfettered access
into the mind of the multi-aliased assassin played by Michael Fassbender as he
ruminates about the qualifications of being a good contract killer, what the “rules
of the game” are, and how things are evolving during the course of his latest
Although Fincher has employed a structure similar to the
film Payback, the first association that came to my mind was Rear Window. As the unnamed (or multi-named) killer prepares for his latest assignment,
he sits near a window and uses his scope to spy on passersby on a nearby street
and guests of a hotel. He doesn’t develop invented narratives for them as James
Stewart’s L.B. Jeffries did but Fincher is enough of a student of film that the
parallels aren’t coincidental. So, for about 15 minutes, we’re in this Rear Window mode as we listen to the Killer’s primer on being a hit man.
Ultimately, the philosophy is boiled down to a few simple rules, most of which are
violated during the ensuing 45 minutes. The job goes bad and the Killer finds
himself on the other side, forced to climb up a chain of command to eliminate a
threat to his own life.
The Killer is based on a graphic novel series written
by Alexis ‘Mantz’ Nolent and illustrated by Luc Jacamon; Fincher’s neo-noir aesthetic
effectively captures this. Although the movie contains several high voltage
action sequences, it is primarily a slow-burn affair. The Killer is methodical
in his approach to the situation, always analyzing and constantly repeating his
refrain about trusting no one and not improvising. It’s hard not to get drawn
into this stylistic world even while reflecting that, in 99.9% of movies, this
character would be the bad guy. This isn’t someone with a proverbial
heart of gold. He’s amoral and the film isn’t about redemption. It’s about
Fassbender hasn’t had this juicy of a role since 2015’s Steve Jobs (in the interim, he has been picking up paychecks for X-Men
movies and Alien-related stuff). He immerses himself in the part and his
cool demeanor allows viewers to relate to the character. Tilda Swinton,
Charles Parnell, and Arliss Howard provide support, although none of them are on screen
for very long. This is Fassbender’s movie, presented from The Killer’s
perspective, and, generally speaking, those who join him aren’t around for very
long. Since he doesn’t delight in torture, they go swiftly.
Fincher, who started his career in the 1980s making music videos (for A-listers like Paula Abdul, Madonna, and Steve Winwood, among others) before transitioning to feature films (his debut was the lamentable Alien 3), has now re-invented himself for the digital age, transitioning seamlessly to streaming and television. (His last exclusive-to-theaters release was 2014’s Gone Girl and, prior to that, 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) The Killer is the kind of production that works both on the big screen and the smaller one (where most people will see it). It engages in a typically perverse Fincher fashion, exerting its pull as much by the development of the plot as by Fassbender’s magnetic presence, and proves to be one of 2023’s most disturbing, stylistic successes.
Killer, The (United States, 2023)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, Arliss Howard, Sala Baker, Endre Hules
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin walker, based on the graphic novel series by Alexis ‘Matz’ Nolent & Luc Jacamon
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
U.S. Distributor: Netflix