The Killer

When a dispassionate hitman (Michael Fassbender), so controlled he measures his heartbeat before pulling the trigger, is jolted by a job gone awry, he will find his carefully constructed lifestyle upended by bosses who wish him erased.  This sets a clean up agenda of his own for “The Killer.”

Laura's Review: B+

I wasn’t expecting a black comedy, but that is just what director David Fincher ("The Social Network," "Zodiac") has given us with his procedural reverse character study of a man whose strong ideas about his own identity prove somewhat unfounded.   Perfectly suited to its star whose dry delivery during the film’s extensive interior narration underlines the wit ladled on by "Seven" screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (adapting Alexis Nolent's graphic novel series illustrated by Luc Jacamon), “The Killer” has a sense of playfulness about it that seems a first for Fincher.

‘If you are unable to endure boredom, this isn’t the job for you,’ the hitman, who is staked out in a construction site across from a Parisian luxury apartment building tells us.  We watch him keep his ripped body in shape with exercise without leaving anything for ‘the elves,’ (i.e., forensics teams) the man always wearing disposable gloves and Peds.  He moves about outside in a beige bucket hat, Hawaiian print shirts, beige chinos and canvas shoes, inspired by German tourists he’s observed people in cities around the world trying to ignore.  This is funny stuff. 

After days of waiting, activity on the street and a maid’s preparation inside an apartment signals the arrival of the very VIP the hitman has been waiting for.  The Target (Endre Hules) enters and settles onto a couch, but a dominatrix poses in front of him, obscuring the hitman’s shot.  He finally shoots and before he’s even pulled the trigger we know where that bullet’s ending up.

After a tense getaway on motorbike, the hitman heads to his secluded home in the Dominican Republic, revealing the first of his many aliases based on 70’s sitcom characters (Felix Unger, Archibald Bunker, a joke that is overplayed here).  But someone’s beat him to the punch and the evidence left within his walls sends him on a mad dash to the hospital where Marcus (Emiliano Pernía) blames him for the serious damage done to his sister Magdala (Sophie Charlotte).  ‘I promise that this will never happen again,’ the man tells him and after a brief conversation while holding his lover’s hand, he’s off to chapter 3 – New Orleans.

This begins a series of retributions that play like stepping up tiers of a video game, he lawyer, Hodges (Charles Parnell, "Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One"), who arranges his jobs, meeting the end of a nail gun while his secretary Dolores (Kerry O'Malley, "Anabelle: Creation") is granted her wish for appearances, the first break in the hitman’s so called dismissal of empathy.  His next chapter takes place in New Orleans, where he’ll hunt down the two identified by an unfortunate Dominican Republic cabbie.  Once again showing mercy, this time to a pit bull, the hitman takes on The Brute (Sala Baker) in an incredibly choreographed hand to hand fight scene before moving onto the brains of the operation (Tilda Swinton, described here as looking like a Q-Tip!), his willingness to challenge her in a tony restaurant causing her to relate a most amusing fable about a hunter and a grizzly, all while partaking of a flight of whiskeys.  The last person he faces, billionaire client Claybourne (Arliss Howard, "Mank") (whose membership in a private gym, no matter how exclusive, doesn’t quite wash), is given a nightmare for life, but it’s one that allows the hitman to sleep soundly.

As usual with a Fincher film, tech credits are impeccable, director of photography Erik Messerschmidt ("Mank") challenged with dark interiors, occasionally gives a golden sheen to a cool palette.  Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's ("The Social Network") score begins with pulsating percussion, gradually becoming something more jagged.  Sound designer Ren Klyce adds incredible tension just by how he fades in and out of the constant stream of Smiths’ tunes on the hitman’s iPod.

“The Killer” is an existential study of a man having to face his own philosophies wrapped within a revenge thriller that’s not afraid to have some fun.

Robin's Review: B+

A man, a cold and methodical assassin, waits and watches for his next target. In his head, he recites his regular mantra for patience and, when the time comes, he takes the shot – and hits the wrong target. Suddenly, the hunter becomes the hunted and he must take drastic measures to survive in “The Killer.”

David Fincher is known for hitting it out of the park with films like “The Social Network (2010)” and “Zodiac (2007).” His latest, “The Killer,” may not be a home run of those two, but it hits a triple and is a damn good movie.

Michael Fassbender, as the unnamed assassin, delivers a fine character study of a man who lives under a strict credo. While he does not speak much in his day-to-day dealings, his mind constantly recites his philosophies as a cold-blooded killer.

“Stick to the plan.” “Empathy is weakness.” “It is not my place to take sides.” “Vigilance is essential.” These are just some of the homilies that play in his head as he maintains the discipline of the tasks at hand. Of course these tasks mean killing people and we see, as this study unfolds, that he sometimes does not stick to the plan and shows empathy when necessary.

The screenplay, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, is based on the French graphic novel of the same name, written by Alexis Nolent and illustrated by Luc Jacamon. I usually can tell if a film is based on a graphic novel but here, as one would expect from a David Fincher, the source material feels original, not adapted.

Usually, with a movie focusing on the main character(s), that subject tends to dominate the story. Here, Fassbender is the focal character, but, unlike, say, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the others, especially his targets of revenge are fleshed out – particularly Tilda Swinton as a small but important foil to the title player.

David Fincher is, of course, a master filmmaker and his hand is readily recognizable here. In a film with many good scenes, there is one that particularly stands out. Our “hero” is out for revenge against those trying to kill him. One of his targets, ID’d as “The Brute” (Sala Baker), surprises the assassin in his mayhem and the extended fight that ensues, all shot in a very dark light, is exciting and holds your attention much like a shootout in a “John Wick” flick. That is praise.

Whatever way you watch “The Killer” – at the theater or streaming at home – you will see a tightly made, always interesting story of an assassin who finally wants out – on his terms.

Netflix releases "The Killer" in select theaters on 10/27/23.  It begins streaming on 11/10/23.