David Fincher is a good director. Not the greatest, in my opinion, but his genre work in thrillers has culminated in some of my favorites in the genre: Mindhunter, Fight Club, and Seven. A lot of his other works are thriller-adjacent – while they might not have all the markers of the genre they are tense, tight films with high stakes like The Social Network still count. His latest Netflix excursion The Killer is a thriller about a successful hitman that has almost no stakes.
Director: David Fincher
Release Date: November 10, 2023 (Netflix)
With the slew of superhero media and action films with seemingly unstoppable protagonists (John Wick, anyone?) the action/assassin genre is saturated with people who are way too good at their jobs. And I’m sure you have to be, considering what the job entails. But the Killer (Michael Fassbender) is far too clinical, too removed for the entire first act that his revenge on those who hurt him has little-to-no heart. I don’t feel his cool anger like I do with John Wick, and The Killer, which centers itself inside the mind of its titular character, is a character film with a facade of a character.
In large part, I think this is due to Fincher’s style and filmmaking ethos as a whole. The Killer is shot and edited to keep distance between the Killer and audiences, but this becomes mundane when all we know of this man are his mantras about his work. Combined with another instance of an “unkillable” Killer (even though he is constantly making mistakes), The Killer becomes a rumination on a bored, tired man who is in desperate need of a career change. Thankfully, by the end of the film he retires! But with Fincher directing, it seems like The Killer is a film about Fincher as a director.
The Killer, with a runtime of over two hours, is broken up into different chapters following the Killer through the events of the film. We start out in Paris, where we first see and hear him. He meditates and listens to The Smiths, all while narrating his thoughts and philosophies about his job to the viewers. When he makes a mistake and kills the wrong person, he goes on an international journey: first to flee the scene and reunite with his girlfriend Magdala (Sophie Charlotte); then to hunt down the people that are responsible for hurting Magdala in an attempt on the Killer’s life.
The Killer, apparently really good at his job, continues to avoid near-death situations. I found his character to be the most interesting in these moments. To go from his meticulous nature and lack of empathy to seeing him literally fight for his life reminds us (and the Killer) that he is, in fact, not a machine. The Killer becomes three-dimensional in these scenes, rather than the stoic man we see during the rest of the film.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with The Killer, other than its lackluster character psychology, is that it’s boring. Sure, some scenes are action-packed (especially the combat scene between the Brute (Sala Baker) and the Killer) but overall I couldn’t get that invested in the plot. To add insult to injury, parts of the movie felt like advertisements. There’s a whole bit about ordering from Amazon that feels redundant considering the Killer’s meticulous attitude towards his job.
The Killer, Fincher’s latest thriller and adaptation from a book, reckons with his career as a thriller director. It’s not far-fetched to put Fincher himself as the Killer – they are both successful in what they do and are searching for meaning in a world that is only growing more apathetic. This meta reading of the film as a semi-autobiographical take on Fincher’s career and where he wants to go from here makes me think of Mindhunter and the constraints of working for studios like Netflix. With proper funding, who knows what kind of film and television an established talent like Fincher would do?
While I didn’t love The Killer, Fassbender’s detached professionalism and the sleek visual style of the film save it from dragging on completely. In a world of seemingly endless reboots and superhero films, I find a more original adaptation like The Killer refreshing.
The Killer is now available on Netflix!