David Fincher has often looked away from his bloody and macabre lens on humanity. Examples like The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button proved to be more than side experiments; they're even lauded as some of his best work. But as with a lot of established auteurs, there’s a certain salivation for what made Fincher famous: i.e., the insurgents and murderers that have bled across his oeuvre via Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac and Gone Girl.
Strangely, despite his latest film The Killer watering that cinematic thirst for blood, it's hardly a competitor. The Netflix revenge-thriller about a disillusioned hitman feels more like a side project than any of his side projects. But don’t fret: whisked into his usual grey/yellow colour palette, Fincher’s gross, bleak and detailed storytelling remains untarnished.
This could be the closest we get to a Fincher-directed Bond movie, especially as its star Michael Fassbender was a strong favourite for the next 007. It’s a delight to see Fassbender’s face on the big screen again, reminding you of his peculiar four-year absence to race in Le Mans. And what a role to return for. Like his characters in Shame and Steve Jobs, he finds a weird, almost incongruous empathy under layers of morally dubious behaviour.
Said assassin sits for days in an abandoned WeWork office in Paris, overlooking the room that will hold his next hit. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) stretches out this scene: the character stares through a sniper scope; his mind spills with a heavy existential voiceover. The speeches serve as a decent imitation of Paul Schrader’s anomic creations, briefly gelling with Alfred Hitchcock when the Killer stares through the apartment windows.
He gears up to take the shot, mixing personal reminders (‘Anticipate, don’t improvise’, ‘Empathy is weakness’, etc) with the enjoyably miserable tones of The Smiths. But alas, the Killer screws up the kill. His employers attempt to punish him through his girlfriend and, equipped with infinite identities, he seeks meticulous revenge that pushes and pulls him around the world.
This hitman is attractive because, aside from being played by Fassbender, he’s deliberately unremarkable. The hat-and-sunglasses combo is almost parodic, but the banal colours of his outfits make him a nondescript phantom who likes a Maccy D's. Resolving the problem of constant visibility in the 21st century, he avoids ‘being memorable’. That suits not only his stealth, but also his near-bureaucratic brutality.
He rarely shows any real emotion, rarely reveals much about himself. You learn little about the partner for whom he’s exacting this penance. You don't even know his real name. But given his general nihilism and self-interest, that elusiveness works. With his voice flooding the film, it’s like he’s simultaneously opening and barricading his life to you.
Part of Fincher’s appeal is his hardiness to show violence in bizarre, precise and disgusting forms. He’s still finding new and gripping ways to mutilate people (one scene involves a nail gun). This Killer proceeds with a constant throb, barely concerned with anything else. He has the id of a predator but the logic of a data analyst. Character development is somewhat scarce as a result, but that’s hardly the point.
The Killer isn’t Fincher at his best and the chapter-driven structure would've outlined a great series. But given the lack of any boring scenes (presumably they were shot, stabbed and killed), this film is still a thrill.
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2023. The Killer will be in UK cinemas on Friday 27 October, and will be available on Netflix from Friday 10 November.
|What||The Killer review|
27 Oct 23 – 27 Oct 24, IN CINEMAS
10 Nov 23 – 10 Nov 24, ON NETFLIX
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|