'The Killer' Review
October 27, 2023
The Killer is a descent into bloody madness told by a director in complete control of their craft. Every frame is perfectly lit, every cut perfectly placed and executed, and every piece of sound is perfectly engineered to rattle your bones. It’s a pulpy uncomplicated story about revenge being a dish best served cold. For anyone who enjoys the Hitman video game series and laments the two laughably bad movie adaptations, this is the answer to all your prayers.
Grant, Jefferson, Malone, Cunningham, Madison, Kincaid. These are the names The Killer (Michael Fassbender) goes by as he travels the globe trading corpses for cash. Anonymity is the name of the game, along with a cold “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. But for all his self-described ruthlessness, The Killer is a master of discipline. “If you’re unable to endure boredom, then this line of work just isn’t for you” he narrates in the middle of his week-long stakeout of his victim’s apartment. He’s developed a rudimentary philosophy to get him through the doldrums of contract killing, one that involves yoga, breathing exercises, and an understanding of how people go about their daily lives.
168 hours of waiting have passed, replaced by the 10 seconds of action that will make or break the mission. The Killer raises his rifle, squares it on his target… and misses. He’s never missed before, and there’s no telling if another chance like this will ever come again. An uncompleted job doesn’t get you a reprimanding like any other, it gets you a bullet to the head. The predator is now the prey, but there’s still time for those tables to be turned back. The Killer must retrace his past, tying up all loose ends by whatever bloody means necessary.
Director David Fincher reteams with his Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, and the results are just as morally grubby as they were almost thirty years ago. Contract killing has become a gig economy, with The Killer reserving his hideouts through Airbnb (well, not anymore as Superhosts have too many cameras), getting lifts to and from the airport through Uber, and ordering his supplies off Amazon. The Killer is a flawed intellectual, a loner who watched too many Paul Schrader or Nicolas Winding Refn films but never understood the full picture. The cracks in his code immediately begin to show once his perfect structure is disrupted. The only thing that can fill those voids is anxiety and uncertainty. Is that person tailing him? Is this seat on the plane too exposed? Does he look too suspicious?
Even with this inner turmoil, The Killer is still extremely sharp and dangerous. Fincher perfectly engineers each of the six chapters this story is told in, flawlessly setting the stage in locations such as Paris, the Dominican Republic, New Orleans, New York, and Chicago. A slow-burn tension is felt throughout, much of it supplied by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ electronic score. Mank cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shoots everything in a gleamingly cool color palette, and editor Kirk Baxter keeps things moving with propulsive pacing. It’s an incredibly satisfying cycle, climaxing with a terrifyingly brutal hand-to-hand encounter between The Killer and a much larger opponent.
Michael Fassbender shows that he hasn’t lost a step after a four-year acting hiatus to go race cars. He’s often mute, maybe monotone when he’s at his chattiest. But he’s always compelling, creating a character that is both restrained to practicality and capable of committing acts of the utmost cruelty. It’s best that he often crosses paths with characters with a little more personality, such as Tilda Swinton’s rival in the same line of work, or Arliss Howard’s crypto billionaire client.
The Killer is Fincher at his most surface level, playfully cutting loose from ambition and delivering his best film to date (yeah, I said it). Don’t expect to learn any life lessons, or have your perspective changed on an issue. Just sit back and be entertained. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a straightforward process being executed with pinpoint precision, and both our protagonist and Fincher accomplish their mission to outstanding results.