Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, April 17, 2024
'The Killer'
The Killer. (Featured) Michael Fassbender as an assassin in The Killer. Cr. Netflix ©2023

‘The Killer’ is a David Fincher film, but not in the way you’d think

A sleek, modern thriller that isn’t about the thrills

From “Se7en” to “Zodiac” to “Mindhunter,” director David Fincher has always been fascinated with the psychology of violent killers. It says something that Silicon Valley tech bros and a man that ages backward are among his more normal, well-adjusted main characters.

Up to this point, Fincher’s focus has been on the long arm of the law pursuing deranged criminals who populate his films. A large part of Fincher’s personal brand is his blend of thriller, criminal psychology and procedural aspects as various flavors of detectives investigate the darkest patches of society.

To follow a killer himself, then, seems relatively straightforward for Fincher. Drop the procedure, ramp up the psychology and keep the thriller. This would be a natural fit for Fincher’s newest collaboration with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote the award-winning screenplay for “Se7en.” 

Instead, Fincher and Walker make a bolder choice: relegating thrills and psychology to the backstage to make Fincher’s most procedural work to date.

“The Killer” isn’t particularly concerned with why its protagonist kills — that’s just his job. Instead, the film examines how he kills, how he lives and what he does when things go wrong. “The Killer” is a story about planning and execution, not the act of killing itself. 

And therein lies the other side to Fincher’s brand: the anal, exacting pursuit of perfection.

The film opens in Paris, where Michael Fassbender’s unnamed character prepares for just another hit job. Despite the week of preparation before he pulls the trigger, he botches it. In the aftermath, both he and the woman he loves are threatened. The rest of the film follows him on an international trip from city to city as he visits loose ends, one by one.

Along the way, he insists the mission isn’t personal. Much of Fassbender’s frequent narration is dedicated to a repeated mantra reminding him to forbid empathy and do only what he is paid to do. 

But with each encounter he has with a professional peer-turned-target, it becomes increasingly clear Fassbender is lying to the audience and himself. 

“The Killer” thus offers a refreshingly creative way of delving into the character’s psyche, slowly unveiling the contradiction between what he says and what he does in a way that never feels trite.

“The Killer” uses its premise to explore the depersonalization of the modern world. The protagonist hides behind the guise of impersonal, virtually faceless figures throughout: a janitor, a German tourist or an airplane passenger with the name of a classic sitcom character.

He frequently uses contemporary affordances such as Amazon drop boxes, scheduled FedEx deliveries and even an abandoned WeWork office to aid his missions. It is striking how easy the killer carries out his machinations while rarely speaking to another person. The film positions itself as a meditation on our tech-facilitated and gig-oriented economy, highlighting the ways in which innovation and convenience rob our individual humanity.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Daily Cardinal delivered to your inbox

One of the more delightful parts of the film (or less delightful, depending on how much you separate art from artist) is its soundtrack, populated almost entirely by The Smiths. 

It’s an inspired choice — Morrisey’s longing vocals playing through the protagonist’s iPod are the perfect backdrop to the killer’s disaffected musings and detached vantages. His “Work Mixtape” (which one suspects is not too different from his Focus Mixtape or Sleep Sounds) fits that of a seemingly hyper-calculating professional who’s really a bit of a melonhead.

There’s also more than a little dramatic irony in how and when Fincher deploys The Smiths. “How Soon Is Now?” plays as he waits for his heartbeat to slow enough for him to take a sniper shot. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” plays as he travels to confront a shady lawyer in his office. “Girlfriend In A Coma” plays after — well, you can probably guess this one.

To be frank, stretches of “The Killer'' are a bit boring — plot wise, at least. That isn’t necessarily a knock on the film; it seems very much intentional. In fact, the first line of the film is a lament on how “physically exhausting it can be to do nothing.” Confining the audience to the killer’s world of mundanity, while making for a more arduous watch than some of Fincher’s work, allows viewers to feel the detachment and alienation at the heart of the narrative.

Those expecting the energy of “Se7en” or “Fight Club” are likely to be disappointed, but “The Killer” delivers a tightly crafted, stylistically immersive procedural that makes narrative from method. Fassbender’s calculating and entertainingly philosophizing protagonist invites us to consider the killer — murderous or not — that may be present in all of us.

Final Smiths count: 11.

Grade: A-

“The Killer” is available to stream on Netflix.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Daily Cardinal has been covering the University and Madison community since 1892. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Daily Cardinal