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The Killer

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

David Fincher's latest revels in the procedural precision of an assassin

David Fincher is one of the few storytellers who is able to make you root for unabashed villains, from Frank Underwood in House of Cards (2013-2018) to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010), one is irresistibly drawn towards seeing these narcissist psychopaths triumph. His latest film, and third collaboration with Netflix, brings us a perfect pairing of director and material.

The Killer (2023) is adapted from the French graphic novel series of the same name. We follow the methodical and unnamed professional assassin (Michael Fassbender), whose chilling precision and patience is tested when he misses a killing shot. His world starts to unravel before him as he is forced to use his skills in ways he didn’t imagine.

The film is best experienced knowing as little as you can going in. The Killer has a set structure, yet it doesn’t reveal itself in a predictable manner. The story proves so immersive, and the filmmaking so alluring, that one is more than happy to go along with whatever Fincher chooses to put on screen.

As with the eponymous character, Fincher is a filmmaker who pays attention to the smallest details, and that work is put on great display with the largely dialogue-free narrative. One awes at the immersive effect of the sound design, from the thrumming white noise of a plane cabin to the sound of music coming from distant headphones. The cinematography is likewise used to transporting effect, taking patient, but close shots that keeps us as flies on the killer’s shoulder. The coloring of certain locations is also done with such a precise edge, that scenes in cold cities truly make you shiver, while those in tropical islands have you loosening your collar. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver their usual groundbreaking score in a Fincher film, The Killer finding the composers crafting a pulsating and gurgling soundtrack evoking a body slowly bleeding out.

The immersive technical aspects do enough to bring you into the proper atmosphere, but it is Fincher’s restrained directing that truly fleshes out the otherwise generic assassin plot. Fincher pauses during the more routine and “skippable” moments of the assassin’s routine, helping make the eventual outbursts of violence feel more shattering for viewers. One particular fight scene was outstandingly shot and choreographed, with the weight of punches and bodies coming across the screen so that you flinched with every blow. In a lesser director’s hands, The Killer could have easily become a generic action caper, globe-trotting and flashy. However, the American director brings about his disturbing fascination with the merciless, refusing to cut away from his protagonist murdering innocent people. This ruthlessness makes The Killer all the more intriguing for viewers, as it brings about a conflict of rooting for such a despicable character. It would be much easier to give viewers an assassin with a heart of gold, so that we wouldn’t feel conflicted at rooting for him, but Fincher wants his viewers to grapple with the ugly morality of it all.

Michael Fassbender returns to acting in The Killer after a four-year break (his last film was the sputtering X-Men feature Dark Phoenix (2019), and the Irish actor does so in a role that, while having an excellent use of voice over, requires him to largely transmit emotions and cynicism with an unflinching face. The smallest flicker of an eyelash or twitch of his mouth must convey a professional mask starting to crack into fear and wrath. Fassbender is truly one of the most underutilized and underappreciated actors working today, I only hope we can see much more of him now that he’s come out of his break.

The Killer is a great pairing for Fincher’s style, enhancing the procedural nature of the protagonist’s approach to his job, and bringing together a technical and creative team that juice every ounce of the minimalist story to making this film a truly hypnotizing watch. As with many of Fincher’s typical fare this is an extremely dark story, but, with a title like that, what were you really expecting?



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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