[Reviewed as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2023]
In recent years, Netflix has become a major supporter for several filmmaking auteurs; following a biographical stint with Mank, David Fincher returns to a more direct storyline with The Killer. Just like his previous works, it delivers another razor-sharp package.
Based on the French comic, The Killer (Michael Fassbender) is a professional hitman who lives well away from normal society. He takes out his targets and collects lucrative rewards while keeping himself in peak physical condition. When his latest job in Paris goes wrong, the renegade anti-hero goes on the run, gradually turning the tables on his pursuers. The chase unfolds across six chapters which take place in many locations. One moment we’re in the Dominican Republic tailing a taxi driver and the next we’re breaking into a rugged strongman’s home in Florida. Along the way, a crucial theme emerges; improvisation. Our protagonist is constantly forced to adapt and change his narrow approach which fuels plenty of creeping tension. You’ll always wonder what he’ll do to his enemies and whether he’ll make it out alive. Each chapter features a new adversary for The Killer to overcome and this adds plenty of variation. When he isn’t covering his tracks, Fassbender’s character will be sparring both verbally and physically. Everything is very methodical and considered, mirroring the life of the main character; the narrative trims off all the fat and keeps moving forward.
The film never leaves the perspective of its leading star and this makes the plot feel more urgent and immediate. Fassbender frequently narrates the story, showing off plenty of inner workings; this is an individual with a tight routine and no room for morals or wider consideration. He is ruthless, cunning and extremely diligent, but from the moment his routine is thrown off balance in the opening, this hired gun faces great adversity. The danger does carry over to his girlfriend Magdala (played briefly by Sophie Charlotte) who could have used more screen-time on the way through. Most of the side performances are small in scale with a brief turn from Tilda Swinton and a vicious brawl with The Brute (Sala Baker) that really gets the heart pounding. One sequence involving a lawyer (Charles Parnell) and his terrified assistant (Kerry O'Malley) amplifies the violent edge with a nail-gun and hand-to-hand takedowns. The final ingredient is a slice of deadpan humour that never becomes overbearing. Between trading platitudes and carrying out risky infiltrations, not a single line is wasted throughout.
Wearing its neo-noir style with pride, The Killer has a very sleek and straightforward look. It grounds the film in a more realistic tone, completing some well-established techniques from Fincher. Transitions between time and setting are handled seamlessly and the lighting is excellent from start to finish. Overhead pans show off the palm trees of the sunshine state, repeating angles show The Killer scoping out his targets and how to reach them, and the many POV shots show off a keen eye. The presentation is an expression of his thought process with the surrounding elements being equally stellar. The environments are all visually distinctive and the soundtrack often ties into the Killer’s turbulent lifestyle for some extra depth.
With great precision, style and grit, The Killer is another standout release from David Fincher; Michael Fassbender carries the simple premise so effortlessly, pulling the audience right into the life of the titular assassin and raising the stakes across each of the six chapters. It works incredibly well as a thrill ride while distinguishing itself from similar titles like John Wick. Check this one out as soon as you can.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars (Brilliant)
About the Creator
I'm a well-travelled blogger and writer from the UK who is looking to spread his blogs and freelance writings further afield. You can find more of my work at https://robc25.wixsite.com/thecainagecritique.