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David Fincher is back in his playpen, with a dark and chilling thriller.

The Killer (2023)

3.5 / 5
4 / 5

David Fincher is back in his playpen, tinkering with all the dark and chilling elements that, let’s admit, are his specialty. There is the stylistic departure of Mank, a production Fincher was especially invested in because the screenplay was written by his late father. It was a comedy-drama and, along with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, are the only Fincher features up to this point to not be of the horror and suspense genre.  One might have consider it something of a biopic of Herman Mankiewicz, the writer of Citizen Kane. Even better, Fincher is back collaborating with Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote Se7enThe Killer is much different however, thankfully.  We do not need another Se7en.  

The Killer (Michael Fassbender)

The Killer is about a hired assassin, played by Michael Fassbender, who blows an assignment by shooting and narrowly missing his target.  From there, our main character must deal with the repercussions of his blunder. Upon returning home to the Dominican Republic, he discovers a trail of blood at his hideout residence and learns that his girlfriend is in the hospital, recovering from serious wounds. Clearly, this was an attempt on the Killer’s life. Despite our main character insisting that emotions don’t factor into his line of work, he is undeniably on a path of vengeance. The story unfolds in chapters, with the Killer taking out those responsible for his partner’s attack one by one. Distance does not faze him, as he relentlessly tracks down his targets. Whether that’s Louisiana, Florida, New York, or Chicago.

The Killer (Michael Fassbender)

It sounds simple enough, and to some extent, it is. What I found surprising about each of his victims was that they all exist in fairly mundane settings. One would not expect them to be in the business of ‘offing’ people for a fee. In the chapter titled ‘Lawyer,’ the protagonist works in a very bland, unremarkable law office with a plain, benevolent secretary. In another chapter titled ‘Expert,’ a wealthy, reserved woman dines alone at her favorite Long Island restaurant. It is unsuspecting, just as unsuspecting as the Killer descending upon his enemies.

There is a familiar, clearly visible consumer brand at nearly every turn. Fassbender’s cold-hearted psychopath sips Starbucks while staking out ‘The Client’ (one of the later chapters). He patiently listens to the rote monologue from the counter-girl at Hertz, orders items off Amazon (waiting like any other patient customer), and casually pops a few Advil after a confrontation with ‘The Brute’ (another chapter).

The product placement is clear but woven into the story. It’s never questioned, and this nameless hitman for hire must follow the same mundane procedures to get what he wants as every other customer. If nothing else, it’s humorous that these companies would endorse the use of their products here. Imagine for a moment that the Killer is a commercial. It would be bizarre and disturbing. To some degree, however, the generic, faceless aspects of these brands and their ubiquity easily allow someone like the Killer to exist. The prevalence of company logos also normalizes his behavior to some degree, and we, as an audience, accept it without exception.

The Lawyer (Charles Parnell)

The Killer moves efficiently through this film, casually discarding weapons and any incriminating evidence at every turn, almost gracefully—whether it’s gun parts, Fitbits, or dead bodies. He’s clearly not a guy who weighs decisions. Also, for as cold and methodical as he is in his profession, he shows an equally emotional, more revealing side when visiting his injured partner in the hospital.

From the Rear Windowesque stake-out at the beginning of the movie, we are in this killer’s head.  His internal monologue reveals a funny, insightful character who’s been gunning down targets at a price for a long time.  We grow accustomed to his speech and quickly begin to like him, at least until he takes out his first target.  After that, we as an audience know he’s capable of anything, which makes him dangerous.  

The Expert (Tilda Swinton)

What’s strange is we hear all the chatter in this guy’s head. But in reality, he barely speaks. It’s his victims who nervously ramble on while facing a gun that do most of the talking in The Killer. The score by Trent Reznor is echoey and creepy but also kind of still, reflecting the internal calm of the Killer. The Smiths play throughout, providing emotional, weepy music that contrasts with his more restrained demeanor.

Michael Fassbender is excellent from the get-go. I need not say more.

The first target, the Lawyer, is portrayed skillfully by Charles Parnell. Tilda Swinton, playing a female higher-up, showcases more vulnerability here than in other villainous, all-knowing roles. She makes a significant impact with her 5-7 minutes of screen time. The Brute is portrayed by Sala Baker from New Zealand, and he is genuinely intimidating—a big guy who can inflict serious damage.

While Fincher’s work can sometimes feel like a boy’s club, that aspect is evident here, but it’s not too distracting or overpowering.

‘The Killer’ poster

The Killer tells a relatively simple story, which may irk some audiences. Mass conspiracy, a big bad villain, sultry love interests, or crazy shoot-outs are few and far between—a surprise for a movie about a contract killer. For me, it makes the film more fascinating and, honestly, much easier to follow. Plus, the stakes never get too heavy, making for a less anxious movie experience, if I’m being honest.

Additionally, at this point, it’s a feat to produce something original and exciting without tripping over cliché after cliché. The Killer didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, but close enough to it to earn my full recommendation.