David Fincher has the reputation of being one of the most meticulous, demanding and macabre directors in American film history. Even actors of the calibre of Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal have struggled with the dozens upon dozens of takes he demands to create his vision.
So it makes sense then that Fincher would be attracted to The Killer, as it’s about a detail-orientated professional assassin who prides himself on knowing exactly what makes people tick and how things are going to unfold. That way, he’s able to stay hidden, kill his target, and then slide away unnoticed.
Based on Alexis “Matz” Nolent and Lucky Jacamon’s comic book of the same-name, The Killer revolves around an unnamed assassin, played by Michael Fassbender, botching his latest murder in Paris. As he tries to leave France, he notices that things aren’t quite adding up and soon he becomes embroiled in a manhunt through the Dominican Republic, New Orleans, Miami and Chicago.
Your reaction to The Killer’s opening will probably indicate how much enjoyment you’ll get from the stylish and sleek psychological crime thriller. For the opening 10 minutes, Fincher does his best Alfred Hitchcock-directing-Rear Window impression as he depicts Fassbender’s assassin using an abandoned WeWork coworking space to stake out the Parisian hotel across the street.
While all we see is his monotonous routine, which includes drinking water from his tin cup, practising yoga, eating hard-boiled eggs and only listening to the music of The Smiths, we also hear his inner thoughts as he narrates his unique way of life and explains why his lack of heart and coldness makes him perfect for his profession.
The longer the scene goes on, the more you can’t help but wonder why we’re watching the titular killer do absolutely nothing. It’s so unlike anything we’ve ever seen from an American assassin film before that it actually becomes comical. Which is entirely the point. Throughout this sequence, and ultimately the rest of the movie, Fincher looks to play with the expectations of the audience before either building suspense or delivering sudden jolts of violence and action.
Once The Killer is on the move, Fincher’s stranglehold of his audience becomes even tighter. There are moments when his decision to zig rather than zag will leave viewers feeling somewhat unsatisfied. But there are also fight and torture sequences that are so expertly crafted you’ll be catching your breath in both surprise and exhilaration.
It’s not just Fincher’s use of the camera and his choice of visuals – especially his noir-inspired collaboration with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt – that allows The Killer to captivate, he has also always had the innate ability to pick the perfect actor for the right character. The Killer is no exception.
It actually marks Fassbender’s first performance in four years, as he’s spent the last few years being a racing driver. The Oscar-nominated Irish actor shows no signs that he’s slowed down, as he effortlessly tows the line between cool, intelligent, depraved and wary. It’s a perfect and timely reminder of Fassbender’s steely presence and is his best performance since 2015, when he appeared in Slow West, Macbeth and Steve Jobs.
Fassbender is very much helped in these pursuits by the rest of The Killer’s fine ensemble, with Kelly O’Malley, Charles Parnell and especially Tilda Swinton each delivering scene-stealing turns. In fact, Swinton and Fassbender’s tense stand-off in an upscale restaurant might just be one of the finest film scenes of the year.
While it doesn’t have the thematic depth or resonance to quite matchup to Fincher’s masterpieces Se7en, The Social Network and Zodiac, The Killer is undoubtedly a slowly engrossing and subversive take on the assassin film. If you’re someone who likes to half-watch a movie while being on their phone, then you’re likely to miss out on or overlook what makes it so special. It demands your full attention. Those of you who do become invested, will be fully rewarded.
The Killer will be released in select cinemas and on Netflix next Friday