The Killer (2023)

Director: David Fincher

Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker (screenplay), Alexis Nolent, Luc Jacamon (graphic novel)

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Sala Baker

Producers: Ceán Chaffin, William Doyle, Peter Mavromates

Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Cinematographer: Erik Messerschmidt

Editor: Kirk Baxter

Cert: 15 (TBC)

Running time: 118mins

Year: 2023

What’s the story: When he botches a routine assassination, The Killer (Fassbender) discovers he and those close to him are now targets for reprisals. He must battle through various adversaries to reach the head honcho calling the shots.

What’s the verdict: Reportedly a David Fincher passion project for twenty years, The Killer drips with the same brutal nihilism of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, and the relentless velocity of John Boorman’s Point Blank. While based on a French graphic novel series of the same name, it also shares an affinity with John Woo’s 1988 masterpiece The Killer. Like Chow Yun Fat in that film, Fassbender’s assassin also must cut a bloody swathe to the big boss after an assignment goes sideways.

The film wears its lineage like a target over its heart, but this remains unmistakably a David Fincher movie. He and Se7en scriptwriter Andrew Kevin Walker have crafted an existential tale of one man’s place in a morally blank universe. “Stick to the plan,” Fassbender’s Killer constantly intones through obsessive voiceover. Despite the plan constantly shifting as the randomness of other people brings disorder to his meticulous arrangements.

Opening credits resemble those of some lost 1990s TV-series, then Fincher slows the tempo right down for the first fifteen minutes. As the titular wet worker patiently observes his wealthy target from a building across a street, he shares his life philosophies. Small surprise that Fincher, a details-man in the Kubrick mold, was so attracted to this property. He revels in the minutiae of the equipment used to execute the hit, and near-OCD levels of discipline required to arrive at that perfect moment of execution.

Also unsurprising that Fincher was drawn to bringing this character to screen. No stranger to depicting difficult men, Fincher resists the urge to soften this coldly pragmatic professional. Going in the opposite direction, he risks alienating the audience in remaining true to the killer for hire’s cold worldview.

Much like Michael Mann, the director delivers action in brief bursts until reaching one major set-piece. Which here is a crunchy altercation with The Brute (Baker), a ‘roid raging slab of muscle, that becomes contender for year’s best fight-scene. Again like Mann, Fincher counterpoints this with a showdown between The Killer and Tilda Swinton’s Expert, which replaces the slugfest for dialogue as she ruminates on their chosen paths.

Some might be dissatisfied with the linear plotting, shared with a thousand straight-to-landfill thrillers. Including a personal element to The Killer’s revenge mission that rings inauthentic. But the pleasure is in watching Fassbender coolly go about his mission, bending his rules despite himself. And while the assassin rues how impossible it is to stay unseen in the 21st century, The Killer wryly notes how today’s corporate world makes wet work more convenient than ever before. Although we’re not sure how the filmmakers got sign-off from Fed-Ex, Amazon, Avis, McDonald’s and others, all of whose products and services are shown helping him eradicate his targets. Indeed, this world seems as much governed by KPIs and contingency insurance claims as any company making a more legally friendly killing…

Would we have preferred season 3 of Mindhunter? Definitely. But if you like your crime films cool and classy, with some smarts behind the shades, The Killer is worth hiring.

Rob Daniel
Letterboxd: RobDan
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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