Released today on Netflix, David Fincher’s latest is our film of the week. Try to catch it on the big screen if you can. Oh, and whatever you do, avoid the new Marvel film, 'The Marvels', which is a stakeless dud that signals Marvel has truly run out steam at this point.
Ah, Michael Fassbender... How we've missed you.
After a four year absence, the actor returns as an icy, methodical and nameless hitman whose “I. Don’t. Give. A. Fuck.” worldview is about to be challenged.
We’re privy to his inner monologues on the realities of contract killing: boredom, amorality, how scepticism is often mistaken for cynicism, the merits of dressing up like a German tourist (“No one really wants to interact with a German tourist”) and the cornerstone of civilisation - the few exploiting the many.
When a high-profile Parisian job goes south and our protagonist has to deal with the violent fallout of his failure, The Killer becomes a rather straight-forward, knowing, and far more verbose riff on Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 crime classic Le Samourai. Out goes the no-fucks-given stance and the repeated mantra about only fighting the battles you’re paid to fight, in favour of a new motto: "WWJWBD."
"What Would John Wilkes Booth Do?"
Based on Alexis “Matz” Nolent and Luc Jacamon’s French comics from the late 90s, The Killer is a nihilist action thriller structured around six chapters and an epilogue. We move from Paris to the Dominican Republic, New Orleans to New York and finally Chicago, watching our nameless assassin on a journey of vengeance leading him to whoever is pulling the retribution strings. Think John Wick minus the pooch motivation and an added penchant for the tunes of The Smiths.
Director David Fincher reunites with some of his usual suspects: Se7en scribe Andrew Dean Walker, his Mank cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, as well as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on scoring duties. The results are predictably moody, slick and precise. As the poster tells us: “Execution is everything”. And when it comes to an exacting style, Fincher is unparalleled in delivering imagery made with such deliberate care.
Of particular note is the deadpan humour throughout Walker’s script, which delivers some terrific one-liners ("New Orleans - a thousand restaurants, one menu"), as well as a show-stopping scene between Fassbender and Tilda Swinton, who have a weighty and sophisticated (mostly one way) conversation punctuated with a masterfully delivered joke. There’s also a brilliantly choreographed fight sequence with "The Brute" (Sala Baker - Sauron from Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings), where a cheeky weapon gag works wonders.
It also helps that not since The Bourne Ultimatum has a scuffle felt so punishing. It’s a toss up between this fight scene and John Wick: Chapter 4 for best ‘Stop it, you’re going to hurt yourselves!’ of the year.
The Killer may frustrate some viewers because of its evasive protagonist, and it will initially seem by-the-numbers.
It’s true that it doesn’t deviate from a lot of conventional trappings when it comes to the vengeful rampage thriller subgenre. However, this feels like a deliberate move on Fincher’s behalf. The epilogue in particular – no matter how unnecessary it may feel – has a subverting effect that makes us re-evaluate what we expect from a revenge narrative. In the end, it’s a simple but lean – and very effective – thriller that sees the director back on familiar terrain, following his 2020 left-turn passion project Mank.
So, while The Killer may not be up there with Zodiac or Se7en in Fincher’s stellar filmmography, it sits nicely alongside The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and is yet another reminder that Fincher is a master when it comes to turning murder into art.
The Killer screened in Competition at the Venice Film Festival. It is screening in selected cinemas, and out on Netflix today.