Tuesday, November 14, 2023


With The Killer, David Fincher renews his status as the premiere name in luxury brand pulp fiction. Here’s a film of cool surfaces and methodical plotting and a constant low-level thrum of tension. The lead character is a hit man who we meet as he sits in an abandoned Parisian WeWork loft, fastidiously and patiently waiting to snipe some rich guy in the penthouse across the nondescript street. Michael Fassbender plays the assassin-for-hire as a hollow-point threat, a no-nonsense man of coiled readiness, prepared to spring into action, but more often than sitting in ominous stillness ready to check off each step of his deadly to-do list. This hit goes wrong, though, and his mystery client subsequently tries to have him killed. So now the hit man turns on the client and works his way up the food chain to find him. (In that way, it’s also a movie about a gig economy worker deciding to stop freelancing and go it alone.) Each victim is reason for a well-cast supporting actor (Charles Parnell, Arliss Howard, and Tilda Swinton are among the instantly compelling figures) to make a quick, memorable impression in a scene or two before the inevitable threat of violence crescendoes. 

That’s a pretty simple, predictable, and familiar story for this sort of thriller. But each sequence is made with the bespoke attentiveness that Fincher is best known for. This is a film of icy remove and precise, digital sheen. Each image, each cut, clacks into place with eerie forward momentum and chilly matter-of-fact suspense. It may not reach the virtuosic heights—or is that more accurately the visceral, propulsive, twisting lows?—of his Gone Girl or Se7en, though it shares the latter’s screenwriter. But, as a return to form for a master of this form, its low-key, high-style blend functions as a sharp-angled pleasure from frame one to final cut to black. It’s Le Samourai plotting by way of Fight Club adjacent tone, with the surface cool of a terse Jean-Pierre Melville procedural animated by a terse, chatty, unreliable Gen-X voice over. Can this empty man of action ever find peace? He thinks so, controlling variables with his repetition and routine, reducing the mess of life and death into a checklist. He does yoga, builds his rifle, plugs in his playlist of The Smiths, and off he goes. Of course it’s not that easy. The film enjoys setting up complications and watching step by step as the killer thinks his way out. In the end, it’s another of Fincher’s pictures of process that has the luxury to be both admiring and afraid of what its lead can do.

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