The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE KILLER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE KILLER

The Killer review
Following a botched hit, a contract killer is himself targeted by his employers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, Kerry O'Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte

The Killer poster

From Vince Edwards in Murder by Contract to Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog, there's a long tradition of cinematic hitmen becoming unravelled by the unexpected appearance of a woman in their sights. With The Killer, David Fincher simultaneously embraces and perverts this trope. Things come undone for the film's unnamed assassin (Michael Fassbender) when a dominatrix appears in the hotel room of the man he's been hired to shoot from a building across the street. Accidentally shooting the sex worker rather than his intended target, the titular killer finds himself targeted by his employers, as movie assassins so often are.

Scripted by Se7en's Andrew Kevin Walker, The Killer features a Patrick Bateman-esque voiceover in which the killer lays out his cold blooded philosophy, a hodge podge of Aleister Crowley quotes and personal mottos like "Forbid empathy" and "Stick to the plan." He justifies his actions by outlining the global ratio of births to deaths, claiming nothing he does will make any substantial difference to the world. He's quickly proven an unreliable narrator. For a start, it turns out he's far from the loner his initial ramblings might fool us into believing he is. He has a girlfriend in the Dominican Republic, and when she's hospitalised following a botched attack by his employers, the killer goes after the men and women responsible.

The Killer review

The killer prides himself on the cold detachment that allows him to do his job, but this time it's personal. His actions betray his thoughts. His voiceover tells us he's in control of a situation only for it to go tits up, his narration literally interrupted at several points by unforeseen obstacles. He displays empathy by refusing to shoot a guard dog, instead taking a risk by trying to immobilise the animal with sleeping tablets. Hitmen caring more for nature than humanity is a trope we've seen in the like of Le Samourai, Ghost Dog and Leon.

But as the title suggests, the killer is after all, a killer. This isn't a redemption story of a sociopath seeing the error of their ways. The killer is too far gone at the point we meet him for that to be an option. He has no problem killing relatively innocent people if they get in his way. Fincher isn't asking us to empathise with his protagonist. Instead, the director appears to be using the killer as a metaphor for himself. You may not like what I do, he seems to be implying, but maybe I can make you appreciate my dedication to what I do.

The Killer review

Like so many of the best filmmakers, Fincher has often found himself accused of being "cold." This is an accusation that tends to be levelled at filmmakers who believe in visual storytelling and refuse to condescend to their audience. Fincher's worst film is Mank, which spells out everything for the audience. His best is Zodiac, which is ultimately an unsolved puzzle. You can't imagine Fincher giving anyone a Christmas present because despite his obsession with precision, he doesn't know how to neatly tie a bow. His best films feature professionals who find themselves frustrated by the messiness and unpredictability of the world. You can imagine he sends a lot of food back.

Like Paul Schrader's recent films, The Killer suggests an aging filmmaker making peace with a world he finds increasingly frustrating and in which he feels increasingly irrelevant. 15 years ago Zodiac played on the biggest screens in your city. Today it would be a Netflix original, if made at all. Fassbender's killer's work is complicated by the modern world with its ubiquitous surveillance, but he also embraces its quirks. He orders the tools of his trade via rapid Amazon delivery. He can slip through crowds because everyone's too busy staring at their cellphones. He gains access to otherwise secure points by posing as delivery men. He rents a WeWork space to use as a vantage point. In what feels like Fincher and Walker frowning at modern audience's disinterest in any media made before the 21st century, he uses a string of aliases based on '70s and '80s sitcom characters because he probably figures they won't be recognised by any of the millennials and Gen-Zers he now has to contend with in his daily life. As the film progresses, the killer's solipsistic narration crumbles as he accepts that for all his Nietzschean philosophy, he's just another working stiff. Is this how filmmakers now feel when they work with (or for?) streaming services, that they might have once been considered auteurs but are now just "content creators?" The idea is bleaker than anything portrayed in The Killer.

The Killer review

Despite that bleakness, The Killer is a surprisingly humorous movie from a director not exactly known for making laugh riots. There's a lot of physical comedy generated by Fassbender, who plays the role like a man who believes he's Sean Connery but is actually Roger Moore, losing his cool exterior and bumbling around when he actually has to fight someone. In what feels like a nod to Jim Jarmusch's other hitman movie, The Limits of Control, a peroxide Tilda Swinton pops up in a very amusing cameo. There are some zingers in the voiceover, like the killer's reveal that he dresses like a German tourist when in Paris because he knows Parisians will avoid him that way.

As amusing as the voiceover is, I can't help but wish Fincher had the balls to drop it, though that's probably not a decision that was ultimately his to make. Remove the voiceover and The Killer almost becomes a silent movie, and would no doubt become a lot more immersive as a result. It's fun to see the killer contradict his own thoughts, but it could be more satisfying for the audience to try to figure out what he might be thinking. It would also allow us to focus solely on the process, that of the filmmaker and his protagonist/cypher. That said, I understand what Fincher and Walker are doing with their voiceover. They know that a significant portion of their audience won't actually watch their film, they'll listen to it while folding laundry or ironing shirts or doing homework. The joke will be on them.

The Killer
 is on Netflix now.

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