David Fincher’s latest film, “The Killer,” aligns seamlessly with expectations for a Fincher-directed narrative centered around a professional hitman. The movie unfolds as a meticulously detailed procedural, chronicling the unraveling world of a hired assassin forced to confront the consequences of his calculated actions. Embracing his reputation as a precise and almost obsessive filmmaker, Fincher, in adapting Alexis “Matz” Nolent’s graphic novel, delivers what feels like his most personal work to date.
Aiding the film’s success is Michael Fassbender, whose portrayal of the nameless protagonist draws elements from his past performances, particularly his role in “Prometheus.” The story kicks off with an extended voiceover, capturing the assassin during a multi-day stakeout in Paris. As he meticulously observes a café below, indulges in McDonald’s for sustenance, and immerses himself in The Smiths’ music, Fincher establishes a deliberate pace. The choice of a German tourist disguise adds an intriguing layer, showcasing the protagonist’s efforts to blend in, an aspect defining his character.
After days of surveillance, a pivotal moment occurs as the Killer’s target appears in a penthouse across the street. In an unexpected turn of events, he misses the mark, hitting an innocent bystander instead. This incident prompts a return to the Dominican Republic, where the assassin discovers his partner clinging to life. Faced with the aftermath and the clean-up crew, the Killer deviates from his own rules, opting to confront those who infiltrated his domain. Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, and Tilda Swinton contribute to the film, but it’s essentially a one-man show—an icy assassin forced into a heated situation.
Fincher’s passion for “The Killer” is palpable in every frame, as he revisits themes that have long fascinated him—obsession, perfectionism, and power. The film benefits from the collaboration of seasoned professionals, including cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, editor Kirk Baxter, and composers Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Technically, “The Killer” stands out in its genre, finely tuned and humming with precision, mirroring the perfectionism inherent in its central character’s work.
Addressing the moral complexity of watching an amoral protagonist attempting self-preservation, Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker refuse to shy away. The Killer’s unapologetically cold-blooded nature may alienate some viewers, emphasizing the film’s focus on precision over redemption. Despite a rushed final act, the no-nonsense approach aligns with the title character’s ethos.
Contrary to expectations, “The Killer” is one of Fincher’s funniest films, featuring a running joke about the assassin’s fake names and a commentary on a commodified and cold world. Familiar brands like Starbucks, Amazon, WeWork, and Wordle weave into the narrative, underscoring a society easily distracted, allowing a killer to navigate unseen.
“The Killer” doesn’t merely replay Fincher’s greatest hits; it represents a deeper exploration of his themes and obsessions, crafting something both brave and new. The film prompts reflection on whether individuals like the Killer can shut out the world to accomplish their objectives—a question extending to the masterful filmmaker himself.
This review was written following the Chicago premiere at the 2023 Chicago International Film Festival. “The Killer” hits theaters on October 27th and will be available on Netflix from November 10th.