David Fincher’s hotly anticipated The Killer finally made an appearance at LFF 2023 after a delayed release. It is another meticulous masterpiece of Fincher filmmaking for fans, complete with a central character shrouded in mystery, masterminding events that unfold, while draped in shadowy and vivid cinematography.
Based on a graphic novel by Alexis ‘Matz’ Nolent and artist Luc Jacamon, the unnamed assassin (Michael Fassbender) called ‘the Killer’ is playing a waiting game in Paris, watching an apartment of a luxury hotel across the street, waiting for his target and executing the intended hit. An unexpected turn of events spark an urgent race against time to eliminate all threats to the killer’s existence, as the ‘clean-up team’ hunt the hunter.
The awe of the Fincher filmmaking is apparent in the first part, enhanced by Fassbender’s equally rigorous approach to portraying his character. Detailed precision is both in the technical aspects of the framing and lighting as it is with Fassbender fixing his icy and composed expression or holding his yoga pose. Coupled with this is the assassin’s internal monologue of ‘how to do a hit’, where routine and being emotionally detached is vital. Repeating his mantras keeps proceedings focused – as well as the audience as we share his solitude while guessing when he will act. We are at his mercy in his world, much like his victims. There is also a commendable pride to the killer’s work ethic, rendering him almost conceited in nature.
The deafening ‘silence’ and patience is punctuated by the sounds of Morrissey from The Smiths singing into his ear, ludicrously used to lower the assassin’s resting heart rate before pulling the trigger. Fincher balances the tenser moments with these lighter ones, including Fassbender aptly dressed like a ‘German tourist’ – as apparently the French do not like dealing with them, according to the Killer – as he nips out to get sustenance or do a spot of shopping. These details provide entertaining moments of respite and illuminate Fassbender’s exemplary acting skills.
The second half of the film is remains diligent in accomplishment, though faster-paced like an action thriller, as the killer moves from one international location to another, paying visits to those orchestrating the deadly industry to save his own skin. The killer farcically repeats and adjusts his mantras as challenges knock him off course. We get a sense of his composure and steadfast control spiralling as he must think on his feet at every turn. This includes an exhilarating (and body-blow sound effects heavy) fight with ‘the Brute’ (Sala Baker) and a civil face off with ‘the Expert’, another stone-cold killer played by the ever compelling Tilda Swinton.
Fincher’s finale could arguably be construed by some as frustratingly ‘rushed’, as the obstacles to rebalancing the protagonist’s existence are spent. However, one could also argue that procedure was followed with the same arms-length intention – by directing style and character motive. Were we ever party to exactly who this killer is, even as he tells us what he is thinking? The ending suggests everything is unfinished in such a perilous situation.
The Killer is technically brilliant and another Fincher feast in enigmatic character development. That said, it does feel like it bluffs its way in conclusion, perhaps as against advice of the killer things do get personal and improvised in nature. The humanity in trying to survive is contrary to the killer we are introduced to at the start. The deception being we are none the wiser as to who we have just witnessed and the idyllic charade at the end feels somewhat unresolved. Or perhaps this is the most fitting ending, restoring Fincher’s love of a screen nihilist.