David Fincher has helped shape the landscape of Hollywood for three decades and counting now. The celebrated and acclaimed filmmaker launched his major directorial debut with Alien 3 before defining 90s cinema with classics Se7en and Fight Club. He’s since gone on to secure numerous esteemed nominations and awards for his films and rode the wave of the streaming age by partnering with Netflix, where he’s developed the Oscar-nominated Mank and the series House of Cards, Mindhunter, and Love, Death & Robots.
His latest endeavor with Netflix is The Killer, a film that initially calls to mind the kind of thrillers Fincher became famous for, before revealing itself to be something a bit more. Michael Fassbender stars as the titular hitman for hire; a professional in every sense of the word who is extremely meticulous, discreet, and thorough. That is, until a job goes wrong, throwing him into an international game of cat-and-mouse against his former employers.
Fincher’s usual cold and detached style works to great effect here as The Killer’s focus stays completely on its main character, himself a remarkably cold and detached human being. You kinda have to be to fall into this line of work, and Fassbender plays the nameless assassin as the world’s deadliest perfectionist, obsessed with the utmost control and attention to detail. Professional murder is just another Tuesday for him, and he treats this particular job no different than anything else in his life.
The Killer is about what happens when, seemingly for the first time, things go horribly awry for someone this precise and proactive. When the job is botched and the killer becomes a loose end, he takes it rather personally, leading to him making some out-of-character, emotionally-fueled decisions. Maybe it’s just the principle of the thing, or maybe it’s good old fashioned revenge; by the movie’s end, it’s truly up to you to decide.
It’s also up for debate whether the killer is quite as competent as he likes to present himself as. For all the sleek and stylish espionage and action that Fincher delivers with this film, it’s also arguably his funniest. The humor is about as dry and deadpan as it gets but it’s certainly there, and Fassbender seems to understand that aspect of this story and character quite well. A second watch could almost convince you it was meant to be a comedy.
The Killer is something that Fincher could only make this late into his career. It’s like a reflective look back on all of the themes and ideas that have always interested the filmmaker, everything from the starkness of capitalism to the gig economy to assassinations and beyond, condensed into an exceptionally wry story of a professional just trying to get the job done. It may be based on the graphic novel by Alexis Nolent, but The Killer feels 100% David Fincher from start to finish.
‘The Killer’ is now playing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix.