With ‘The Killer,’ David Fincher Delights in the Brutal

There is a reason I choose not to interview directors, writers, actors, or anyone else involved with the movies I watch, enjoy, and review. It’s because I prefer to evaluate based on what we see on screen rather than whether it’s the product of someone likable or not, quick-witted or not, or passionate about their work or not.

Anytime I start to waver on this approach, I’m quickly reminded of why the decision was made. David Fincher is unquestionably one of the finest filmmakers working today. His resume includes such films as Seven (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Gone Girl (2014), and Mank (2020). Despite this remarkable resume of successful films, each new entry deserves to be judged on its own; there is no extra credit for past brilliance.

The all-too-brief and remarkably cool opening credit sequence sets the stage for a film that looks absolutely marvelous. This leads us to an extended opening sequence where we learn about our titular cold-blooded assassin played by Michael Fassbender. It’s through his redundant narration that we learn about his meticulous and detail-oriented approach to a job that has made him a very wealthy man. He listens to various songs by The Smiths, does yoga in the dark, and repeats his mantras to keep himself centered and focused on the job at hand. After all, he cautions us that this job is only for those who can handle boredom.

Getting to know the quirks and nature of this hitman is actually the highlight of the movie, because he botches this job in the worst possible manner, and then must step outside his norm to handle this ‘new’ development. When he discovers that his partner has been seriously wounded as fallout for his blown job, the Killer conveniently drops his ‘nothing personal’ mantra and proceeds to pursue very personal revenge.

Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker has adapted the graphic novel written by Alexis Nolent and illustrated by Luc Jacamon, and Fincher is clearly having fun with the material. It’s not accurate to call this a dark comedy, but there are some comedic elements included to lighten things up a bit. Most of these struck me as a bit lame: shots at our societal dependence on name brands (Amazon, WeWork, Starbucks, etc.), the Killer’s disguise as a ‘German tourist,’ and the endless string of 1970s sitcom names used in his travels (think The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and even The Partridge Family).

To ensure no viewer is left behind, the film is divided into six chapters highlighted by the geographic location and the reason for being there: Paris – the Target, Dominican Republic – the hangout, New Orleans – the lawyer, Florida – the brute, New York – the expert, and Chicago – the client. Each of these chapters involves a piece of the revenge puzzle and includes fine actors like Charles Parnell, Tilda Swinton, and Arliss Howard. Ms. Swinton’s segment offers the most, but her presence is over much too soon. It’s the fight with the brute that is the weakest since the fight is so over-the-top that neither would walk away, yet Fassbender’s character departs with only a scratch over his eye.

While most of the story seems too familiar and kind of ludicrous, the film itself is a work of art. Fassbender perfectly captures the icy killer, and Oscar-winning cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (Mank, 2020) delivers in the multitude of locales, as well as the action shots. Two-time Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross handle the score of this film that will undoubtedly be regarded more highly by most other critics than by me since a line like WWJWBD simply falls flat in my mind.