By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Nearly 30 years after collaborating to create one of the greatest films of all time in Se7en, director David Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker reunite for a sharp, methodical neo-noir thriller with The Killer.
Based on the French graphic novel of the same name by Alexis “Matz” Nolent and Arliss Howard, The Killer follows an unnamed assassin (played by Michael Fassbender), whose cold and calculated manner starkly contrasts his humorous decision to use the names of famous sit-com leads as aliases. When a routine mission in Paris unexpectedly goes awry, Fassbender’s assassin finds himself in the middle of an international manhunt.
The Killer sees David Fincher return to the kind of tone and atmosphere he is most comfortable with. Brooding, dark, and serious, Fincher takes an extremely conventional script about a hired killer and turns it into a refined, intense thrill ride. It’s a testament to Fincher’s prowess as a director here that he isn’t operating from a script with the sharpness of Gone Girl or the intricacies of Zodiac or the commentary and wit of The Social Network. Instead, Fincher takes on a grander challenge – elevating a standard screenplay to become a polished noir thriller.
It’s not long into The Killer that the similarities between the television series Dexter stand out. Similar to the acclaimed Showtime series, The Killer features a cold-blooded murderer as the titular character, who guides the audience through his perceptions and perspectives with an unusually calming inner monologue. Again, while not doing anything unique with this approach, the film manages to capture an uncanny intensity by allowing the audience into the mind of someone so calculated, calm, and ruthless. Repeating a mantra about the dangers of empathy and the belief that anticipation is preferable over improvisation depicts a character brutal in his world view, while the character’s interest in The Smiths, classic sit-coms, and McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches provide a humorous contrast, not dissimilar from the sort of tonal juxtaposition employed in Dexter.
Stoically leading the film as the leading assassin is Michael Fassbender, who, after somewhat of an absence on the big screen, returns this month with The Killer and Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins. Fassbender features in every scene of The Killer, all the while embodying a methodical menace with disturbing precision. Fassbender rarely emotes, to such an extent that, when issues arise and emotions of fear or concern break through the hardened exterior, the tension ramps up exponentially.
Unfortunately, The Killer loses steam as its runtime progresses. After a razor sharp, globe-trotting first two acts, Fincher’s film begins to lack compelling tension before coming to an end in surprisingly underwhelming fashion. It’s not a film that ever gets boring, but, rather, one that initially excels and yet fails to maintain its slow-burn, methodical approach. What results is a third act that provides an unsatisfying conclusion to a once captivating tale of international intrigue and espionage. With a grander third act fitting to a film with such intensity in its earlier acts, The Killer may have been one of the strongest films of the year. Instead, audiences will be left with an exciting adventure that eventually loses its way.
David Fincher’s The Killer sees the iconic director return to a style and tone he is more comfortable with after the accomplished, yet meandering Mank. Reteaming with Netflix and his Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker, Fincher takes a largely conventional script and, with razor sharp directing, crafts a slow-burn, calculated film with uncanny intensity. Sporting a number of similarities to the Showtime series Dexter, The Killer provides internal insight into the inner-workings of a cold-blood killer, while contrastingly highlighting lighter aspects of the character’s personality. Michael Fassbender excels as the brutal, methodical assassin in a role that demands great stoicism and rare, yet necessarily effective, emoting. A third act that loses steam and tapers out to a disappointing conclusion means The Killer falls short of the high standards Fincher has established in previous works. Nonetheless, those looking for an intense thrill ride with plenty of intrigue, suspense, and action will enjoy Fincher’s latest.