“When was my last quiet drowning?” bemoans Michael Fassbender’s cold, philosophizing assassin as he’s holed up in a vacant “WeWork” office, observing his gilded target and the surrounding Parisian apartments in a fashion that recalls Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window—one of many cinematic parallels David Fincher’s The Killer draws on to draft its visually resplendent and delectably nihilistic manifesto. The nameless agent of death operates on a modus operandi that is as lean and mean as the film he’s in: calculating, exacting, and armed with a “killer” soundtrack courtesy of The Smiths.
The Killer sits firmly and confidently next to the rest of Fincher’s oeuvre, manifesting as a pessimistic take on modern materialism, but it also doesn’t carry the narrative gravitas or catharsis of a Fight Club or Se7en. Instead, it unfolds as an absorbing, slice-of-life procedural that doubles as a biting satire of the corporate world. It’s a stylish marvel that puts us in the shoes of a man who views life as a “series of redundancies” as he crosses off a to-do list in the wake of a job gone awry. It’s meticulous in its approach, taking us through seven chapters, and an epilogue, of a globetrotting retribution mission with little adherence to the traditional models of setups and payoffs.
Said fumbled murder is one of many masterfully constructed moments teeming with a Hitchcockian level of suspense, powerfully marrying the thrilling perversity of its voyeurism with a grand technical vision. With The Killer, Fincher’s signature digital aesthetic only grows in status and power, as it cements frames that are as emotionally warped as they are chillingly beautiful, hypnotic in their ability to provoke and mesmerize in equal measure. Especially when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s thrumming, blood-curdling score kicks into gear.
The premise of a botched contract killing isn’t new, let alone assassins who catalog their philosophical leanings (Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï first comes to mind). But Fincher views his take as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The titular protagonist’s close-to-the-bone musings are so utterly riveting to listen to that they allow us to peer into the psyche of a man who believes his kind are in the minority but is much more common than one might think—the kind of man today’s soulless corporate world not only creates but fosters, rendering people as statistics rather than humans capable of genuine emotions or aspirations.
It’s a mindset Fassbender brilliantly personifies with a haunting, glazed-over visage and an impossibly perfect posture. While his internal monologue continues to permeate, one can’t help but laugh at the twisted comedy he creates of daily life, deconstructing McMuffins, purchasing fob copiers off Amazon, and dressing like an innocuous German tourist that most people would do anything to avoid. The Killer is full of brazen, uncomfortable truths that illuminate the slog of a consumerist existence, where concepts of justice and fate are, perhaps, “placebos” that make it easier to withstand, just as our eponymous hitman continues to suggest en route to each brutal execution.
In addition to its dark and dreary existentialism, The Killer is a sonic-visual feast that enamours the senses. The droning, crackling score creates a wall of sound that renders each creative kill that much more guttural and bracing in their execution. Fincher dreams up an assassin that is the epitome of a lethal weapon, equipped with zero hesitation and doling out mercy in the form of a quick death, one that hopefully allows loved ones to find whatever is left of them. Though Fincher’s killer is undeniably chatty, he’s rarely speaking with others, silently listening, unphased by their pleas for life. That steely blankness is what gives this character his power, allowing us to project our own insecurities and connotations onto him—and in that way, he’s more human than we’d care to admit.
Though some may argue the experience, as a whole, doesn’t amount to much, The Killer has no aspirations of being a grand dramatic experience. Catharsis is of little value in Fincher’s character study, instead, it’s a damning reflection of modernity, a world where metrics take precedence over empathy. While it may go down as Fincher’s fifth or sixth best effort, an accomplishment in a filmography that includes the likes of Zodiac and The Social Network, The Killer is an incredibly nuanced and introspective feature that would be among the cream of any other film catalogue. Even when he’s not at his best, Fincher proves himself to be one of the most exciting, observant, and oddly human filmmakers working today.
The Killer is now playing in select theaters and will be streaming on Netflix on November 10th.
The Killer is an incredibly nuanced and introspective feature that would be among the cream of any other film catalogue. Even when he’s not at his best, Fincher proves himself to be one of the most exciting, observant, and oddly human filmmakers working today.