Fight Club and Se7en director David Fincher has been trying to adapt the French comic book series The Killer since it was first published in English in the late 00s. But it was only in 2020 – after signing an exclusive four-year deal with Netflix – that he was able to rescue the project from the dusty end of the development shelf.
Now, with Michael Fassbender in the titular role – an assassin who turns his lucrative skills on his employers after a job gone wrong – this neo-noir revenge tale is set to drop on Netflix on November 10th.
The plot outline makes it sound like a B-list Liam Neeson or Jean-Claude Van Damme explosion extravaganza. But of course, it isn’t. What Fincher delivers is an intriguing procedural revenge thriller.
We’re introduced to the nameless assassin while he’s on a job in Paris. As he waxes philosophical (we quickly realise he’s not quite as intelligent or capable as he thinks), the Killer takes us through the drudgery of his day job. But when he makes a mistake and his fellow contractors target his girlfriend, he tries to keep a lid on his cultivated professionalism (and his mind) while enacting his revenge.
Fincher deploys a stripped-back, surface-level approach, which creates a unique tension. Watching the protagonist work – subdued and methodical – is rather unnerving, not just because he’s a cold-blooded killer, but because it soon feels like he’s showing you the ropes at some sort of office job. Although, it does eventually become a little monotonous to watch him go about his business.
But when the action comes, it’s delivered like a shot of whiskey: quick and intense. One of the film’s highlights is a cramped and dizzying fight scene with another hitman (played by Sala Baker), which highlights the brutal and unglamorous reality of getting pummelled in the face. It’s very cleverly choreographed and shot in half-light.
The dialogue is a mixed bag – with most of it delivered by Fassbender via a monotone voice-over. We get the intention; the protagonist’s existential ramblings aren’t meant to be insightful, but – much like Patrick Bateman’s inner thoughts in American Psycho – expose him as a self-absorbed buffoon, albeit a dangerous one.
But while the Killer’s self-justifying interior monologue and lame millennial quips are sometimes effective (for someone who lives off the grid, he’s surprisingly in tune with popular culture), they can just as often feel heavy-handed.
Fassbender gives an excellent performance though, as has become standard for the Irishman. Through his collected, deliberate movements and watchful glares, we get a subtle sense of rage and fear simmering under the surface, which adds some tension to the proceedings. Still, some viewers might be left unsatisfied when they don’t get to see it boil over.
But The Killer is undoubtedly successful in creating a disconcerting and suspenseful atmosphere. The droning score by Fincher’s longtime collaborators, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, feels like the ringing of a grenade that’s just gone off in your ears. It does a good job of making you feel like the protagonist’s worldview has suddenly slipped out of kilter.
The best bits, however, are the blink-and-you-miss-them glances through the chinks in the protagonist’s armour. The audience is constantly left wondering whether he’s fulfilling a personal vendetta or avenging a professional slight.
It’s also interesting to watch him try (with different degrees of success) to live up to his own understanding of himself as a dedicated practitioner of his craft and a detached perfectionist. But these probes into the character are somewhat few and far between.
The Killer certainly feels Fincher-esque and will probably satisfy many devotees of the director. However, it lacks some of the more thrilling aspects of his previous work, and its stylishly simple approach leaves its main character a little unexplored.
The Killer is available on Netflix from November 10th and in select theatres on October 27th.
Are you planning on watching The Killer? If so, let us know what you think in the comments below.