The Killer

The Killer

The Killer
Genre: Action Thriller
Director: David Fincher
Release Year: 2023
Runtime: 1h 58min

Am I the only find who finds it odd that there’s a David Fincher movie that premiered on Netflix? Yes, that David Fincher. Possibly the most famous, most popular director of American action cinema in the past decade or two. Not that he hasn’t done his share of prestige TV stuff over the years, but this feels like something that would have, or could have, been a box office hit back in the early 2010s. Or at least another interesting and dynamic entry in his oeuvre. It’s not as if he’s taking a big swing on this one, though. It’s an uncomplicated assassin-gone-rogue film based on a French graphic novel. But, as with all of Fincher’s films, simple doesn’t necessarily mean simplistic.

Think about the plot of another of Fincher’s films, Panic Room. The literal plot is right there. People break into a mansion in NYC and the woman in the house hides in a panic room and basically Home Alones the dudes. That’s it. Same goes for The Killer. An unnamed assassin (Michael Fassbender) screws up an assignment, killing the wrong person from the window of a Paris WeWork. He then goes on the run and attempts to find his client before said client cleans up The Killer’s screw up and ties up loose ends. It’s a real John Wick-y wicket. The plot is almost all subtext. The Killer’s incredibly insane process. His dedication to his craft. His cynical approach to judging human nature. While also listening only to The Smiths. Which is hardly something a cold calculating non-emo type would enjoy. He’s a conundrum. But he’s also Fincher. He, The Killer, is Fincher. A director known to demand 826 takes of every scene. To borderline torture his actors in order to get to perfection. To constantly meet and exceed his own exacting standards. The same ludicrous and confounding process we watch The Killer go through prior to his botched assassination at the beginning of the movie. It’s as if Fincher is out-and-out apologizing to Jake Gyllenhaal for apparently breaking him on Zodiac. Sorry, dude, I guess I’m a cold, calculated killer with an insane sense of what is okay. Assuming, of course, Fincher’s that self-aware.

So, after botching this assassination, The Killer realizes he’s in trouble. Thugs come to his house in the Dominican Republic looking for him, but instead find and beat his girlfriend almost to death. I did bump a little on this part, as this dude who is so secretive and protective and obviously wrapped up with some dangerous people seems to live in a house with no doors or windows. It’s like a luxurious, modern palapa? Not exactly a secure dwelling. Quite the opposite. But this beating of his girlfriend (like the killing of John Wick’s dog) sends him into agro mode. No longer is he willing to run and hide from his client; he’s going on offense and killing his way all the way to the top. And so starts the fighting and the shooting and the colder-than-cold murdering of anyone and everyone connected to this job. In New Orleans. In Florida. In Beacon, New York. In Chicago. All the time using dumb fake ID aliases of television characters: Sam Malone, Lou Grant, Archie Bunker, Felix Unger, Oscar Madison, Howard Cunningham, George Jefferson, among others. Like his unprotected house, I’m not sure why this incredibly careful killer would use really recognizable character names that almost anyone looking at would question as fake. I get that the writers liked the gag, but it’s really dumb and completely not connected or realistic in the world or for this character. Too cute. Real dumb.

All of these different locations kind of act as set pieces. They also feel super-insular, as it’s usually just The Killer and one or two other characters in offices, houses, restaurants or apartments. As if COVID was a thing when this was filmed. And maybe it was. There is one particular fight scene in Florida with a large, brutal dude named The Brute (Sala Baker) that is incredibly harrowing and is one of the best close-combat things I’ve seen in a very long time. There’s also a long talky-talky scene with Tilda Swinton that is incredibly well acted by both Fassbender and her that maybe feels like it’s in a different movie. A decent scene, but an energy level that matches the first overly-long scene about process and boredom and not the previous fight scene that really amped up the film. It just felt a bit up and down from a tone and propulsion standpoint.

Fassbender is an interesting actor. The film uses his voiceover at the beginning of the film to talk about himself and what he’s up to. His accent is… Well, it’s definitely not American. And, yes, I know the guy is Irish, but he’s supposed to be American here. And he is, by face and by inflection, inherently not. Which I suppose gives him an international flavor as an international assassin, but his slips into brogue did distract me at times. That’s when he was actually talking, of course. And not using that interesting, but also a little bit wonky, face to stare at Tilda Swinton. Acting only with his intensity and slight facial movements. He’s a handsome actor, of course, but he’s also just vanilla enough to kind of evade memory. Seriously, stop and think about what Michael Fassbender looks like. He’s kind of unremarkable in that vaguely German/Irish way almost every white American and/or Euro male is. Which makes him a great choice for an assassin who prides himself on being able to blend and be just that unremarkable. Anyhow, there is also nothing terribly remarkable about this film. It doesn’t have the twists and turns of Fincher’s earlier work, nor the snappy dialogue and richness of his more current stuff. It’s just kind of a down-the-middle action movie that sometimes just isn’t that filled with action. Which, as we’ve said about Fincher, is most definitely part of the plan. And while there are some light moments — even funny ones — I can’t can’t say I had a ton of fun watching this movie. The main character is too stoic. Too golem-like. Too brutal. The story is too straight-forward — even with some of the subtext about power dynamics and whatever. I think it’s a must watch for Fincher completists, but definitely not something most of the general public will get much lasting enjoyment out of beyond that.