David Fincher’s The Killer Review

While The Killer may not be top-tier David Fincher, it’s still an expertly assembled and filmed hit man movie.

PLOT: When a botched assignment leads to an attack on someone he cares about, a cold-blooded hitman (Michael Fassbender) goes on the warpath.

REVIEW: I know what you’re thinking – that premise sounds tired and familiar. Indeed, the hitman revenge movie has become an overly familiar subgenre, with this at least the fourth or fifth movie I’ve seen this year about a profession that may not even really exist (as argued in Richard LinIklater’s upcoming Hit Man). An adaptation of the French graphic novel of the same name, the chief interest here is seeing how Fincher executes such a straightforward genre movie, and indeed, it’s his style that keeps The Killer from feeling recycled.

In a lot of ways, The Killer feels like Fincher’s attempt to deliver Netflix a more straightforward film as payback for them bankrolling his (excellent) passion project, Mank. Yet, audiences who catch this on Netflix shouldn’t expect a wall-to-wall action romp. Instead, Fincher’s film is as cold and calculating as its protagonist, with his murderous trade less softened than usual for the genre. Fassbender’s nameless killer does things John Wick or the noble assassin played by Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo’s identically titled thriller would shudder at, including killing helpless bystanders that are, if not wholly innocent, then at least close to it.

This coldness makes The Killer so intriguing, as Fassbender’s playing a guy who would probably be a villain in any other action movie. His contract killer has an inner monologue that warns him not to empathize with his victims, and while you can tell that he doesn’t consider killing a thrill, he’s not overly bothered by the bodies he leaves behind.

He only really shows emotion or empathy once. After a hit gone wrong, his employers attempt to eliminate him to prevent any blowback on their client. When they can’t find him, they invade his secluded home and brutally attack his girlfriend. Their attack on her spurs him into action, with the film broken up into chapters – one for each of his victims. They range from the almost innocent to the decidedly not, with the big action set piece of the movie being a brutal scrap he has with a sadistic killer called “The Brute, played by stuntman Sala Baker.

the killer review

This fight sequence is probably the movie’s only traditional action scene, as most killings are done in a cold, brutal fashion. It’s interesting to see Fincher shoot a legit beatdown for the first time since Fight Club in 1999, and the brutality in this sequence feels like a callback to that earlier film. This also marks Fincher’s first credited collaboration with writer Andrew Kevin Walker since Se7en. However, the dialogue is mostly sparse until Fassbender meets up with another killer (played by an excellent Tilda Swinton) for a meal in the last act. While mostly grim, some darkly comedic aspects include The Killer’s love of The Smiths, his constant use of sitcom character names for his aliases, and the fact that he buys many of his gadgets from Amazon. Swinton’s character even repeats the same “hunter and the bear” joke used to great effect on Netflix’s own The Crown a few years ago.

As usual for a Fincher movie, The Killer is impeccably crafted, running a lean two hours and sporting Fincher’s signature cold, dark look via DP Erik Messerschmidt. The score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor is more sparse than usual, and the sound design is intricate enough that if you get a chance to see this theatrically, you should.

While The Killer isn’t top-tier Fincher for me because it feels like more of an aesthetic exercise than one of his truly great films, it’s still expertly assembled and entertaining. It also offers Fassbender a solid return to form after a slew of underwhelming films.

The Killer premieres on Netflix this Friday

the killer review

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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.