Death wears a hat

Death wears a hat

The Killer isn't Fincher's finest, but it's still solid

Death wears a hat
Michael Fassbender in The Killer. (Photos © NETFLIX)

Those who've been following David Fincher's career for the last 30 years, would know that he's been consistently delivering really slick, stylish genre entertainment. Some may remember him from directing Madonna's music videos back in the early 90s, like Express Yourself and Vogue, or the hit biopic drama The Social Network (2010). But what really set Fincher as one of the most respected filmmakers today was his work oftentimes, in the thriller genre. It's where you really get to see his signature style at play. And along those lines, I'm talking about movies like Seven (1995) Zodiac (2007) Gone Girl (2014) or even some of the best episodes of crime series Mindhunter (2017). Now the director has returned again in the latest Netflix crime thriller The Killer where he reunited with writer Andrew Kevin Walker who penned the screenplay on Seven.

Based on the French graphic novel series with the same name written by Alexis Nolent and illustrated by Luc Jacamon, The Killer stars Michael Fassbender in the lead role of the unnamed assassin who's on to a new mission after one of his assignments go sideways. And he finds himself targeted by those that hire him. The killer then decides to turn the tables and goes after people in the organisation in an effort to remove any threat against him.

Fassbender's portrayal of the nameless assassin is characterised by silence and stoicism. With minimal dialogue, he relies on a strong physical presence and intense stares, reminiscent of Ryan Gosling's character in Drive (2011). The killer's modus operandi is clear -- he moves from one location to another, eliminating targets efficiently. This simplicity might be a turn-off for some viewers who expect more complexity in character development, as the movie primarily revolves around watching the protagonist execute his assignments.

The film unfolds at a deliberate pace, opting for longer scenes than typical crime thrillers. The opening sequence sets the tone, showcasing the protagonist's capacity for enduring tediousness. Fassbender's character narrates the story through internal thoughts, offering a glimpse into the meticulous mindset of the killer. While this narrative choice adds depth to the character's professional life, it keeps his personal life shrouded in mystery, hindering audience connection.

Amidst the deliberate storytelling, the film shines in its action sequences, featuring well-executed hand-to-hand combat scenes. Notably, a prolonged sequence avoids excessive quick cuts, allowing viewers to appreciate the raw intensity and stamina displayed. The film successfully balances violence without gratuitously lingering on it, maintaining a necessary level of restraint.

Michael Fassbender in The Killer. 

The moral ambiguity of the film presents another layer for exploration. Fassbender's character is an unapologetic assassin who adheres to a mantra of detachment, repeatedly reminding himself not to feel empathy. This lack of emotional connection becomes both fascinating and frustrating as the killer navigates a path of revenge with precision and indifference. The film challenges traditional revenge tropes by swiftly moving past the exposition of emotional wrongs, creating an enigmatic atmosphere where the protagonist pursues strangers without much insight into his motivations.

The Killer distinguishes itself by deviating from the conventional setup of revenge narratives. While many films take time to establish the emotional stakes behind a character's quest for vengeance, this movie opts for a more mysterious approach. The tension is notably absent, except during intense fight scenes, leaving the audience to follow a stranger pursuing other strangers. The lack of a strong emotional foundation and suspense, combined with relatively unknown targets, contributes to a narrative that feels competent but ultimately lacklustre.

Despite these criticisms, Fincher delivers an excellent portrayal of an assassin's story, complete with engaging interactions and intense action sequences. The film boasts promising elements that could have elevated it to greatness, but the overall execution falls short of realising its full potential. The Killer stands as a competent addition to Fincher's body of work, offering a unique perspective on the world of assassins but failing to deliver the anticipated suspense and emotional resonance.

  • The Killer
  • Starring Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell
  • Directed by David Fincher
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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