Killer, The (United States, 2023)

November 14, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Killer, The Poster

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 job.

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 revenge.

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)

Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 2023-11-10
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1