If you’re like me, the last thing you really want to watch is another film or TV show about a hitman. (What is Hollywood’s fascination with the profession? Is it a metaphor for what filmmakers want to do to studio heads and critics?) However, no matter how many hitman sagas have gone before, you owe it to yourself to see director David Fincher’s take on such material with his new film THE KILLER. Quite simply, it slays.
This deft, 118-minute thriller stars Michael Fassbender and is written by Andrew Kevin Walter, based on the French graphic novel series of the same name by Alexis “Matz” Nolet and Luc Jacamon. But make no mistake, this is Fincher’s film through and through as you feel his singular style, cleverness, and intellect writ large in every frame.
THE KILLER had a boffo premiere last week as part of the Chicago International Film Festival, with its capacity crowd at the Music Box rapt in attention the whole time. You could hear a pin drop during the screening, and barely a soul ran out to hit the head or the concession stand. Fincher’s films demand to be watched avidly, starting with the sharp title sequence here. It’s a fast-moving, yet enthralling pastiche of assassin’s tools and other killers found in nature.
And even though he’s juggling one hitman movie trope after another, Fincher gives almost every one of them a fresh spin. Precise camera work, crackerjack editing, and A + performances from everyone playing B-movie archetypes make this film feel almost French in its cool and cleverness. You practically expect Alain Delon to make a cameo appearance.
Fincher blends in plenty of his cynical wit too, making the mayhem and nastiness a lot funnier than it probably should be. In some ways, the film plays as an outright comedy because, despite all of the hard rules the assassin tells us in his voice-over narration that he religiously adheres to, the professional keeps making mistakes left and right. It starts with him missing his intended target in the first act of the film, and his screw-ups continue after escaping the scene. Such juxtapositions make the film cheekily hilarious, funnier than most comedies out this year.
Fassbender’s character then has to contend with a rival hitman coming after him for his botched results – again, not exactly novel in the genre – but it’s given a lot of topspin to keep us on the edge of our seats. Surprises in the casting keep it frothy too, but I won’t give away some of those supporting Fassbender. He plays well off of each of them, but it’s funny how much time he is acting alone onscreen. He plays the part as part rattlesnake, part Buster Keaton. He’s either a predatory killer making sure no one gets the better of him or he’s a sad sack silently shuffling in and out of various locations in search of those after him. Fincher even turns the character study into a mourning of a professional having a mid-life crisis. The film could easily sit on a double bill with either SAVE THE TIGER or THE HOSPITAL.
Fincher clearly loves turning pulp into poetry as he did with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and GONE GIRL before this one, and in many ways, his new film is as much a character study about himself as it is about the hitman. Both men want to spin what they’re doing into art. But only Fincher is the guy who never misses.