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The Killer

Released 2023. Director: David Fincher

BY ALL ACCOUNTS FINCHER + FASSBENDER has that buzzy appeal of a lethal combination. The director of Fight Club, Gone Girl and The Social Network and the star of Steve Jobs, Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave in a movie about an assassin out for blood. Enough, I’m sold. So why do I find The Killer a stylish yet underwhelming dud? What went wrong?

He talks too much, for starters. The Killer is wall-to-wall narration. From his first musing “It’s amazing how physically exhausting it can be to do nothing” to his verdict “Maybe you’re just like me. One of the many”, the nameless Killer never loses a moment to tell us exactly what he’s thinking, doing, planning, feeling or how many McDonald’s there are in Paris. This background verbosity wouldn’t have mattered if it wasn’t in conflict with the austerity of a stern and merciless hitman as he presents himself. Mind you, this is not the only instance of character incongruity.

The Killer is the epitome of discipline and method. We see in a drawn-out introduction the man’s supreme adherence to his regiment. His rigid way of operation dictates that every step, every action and every decision is pre-meditated. He even times when he turns over in his sleep. Extreme? “Stick to the plan. Anticipate. Don’t improvise.” A mantra he recites ad-nauseum.

The Killer is on a stakeout across the street from a posh suite in Paris. When the target finally arrives on the scene after days of patient surveillance and waiting, the Killer aims, waits for his pulse rate to drop below 60, takes the shot, and… misses. An unthinkable outcome. When an assassination attempt of this scale falls through, you bet there’s a high price to pay. The Killer swiftly commences his carefully laid out escape plan but by the time he makes it safely to his hide-out in the Dominican Republic, the only person he loves has been brutally attacked and a hit has been placed on him.

The rest of the movie is all about his revenge, tracking down everyone responsible, from the hired guns (called the Brute and the Expert), his handler, the client and anyone associated by bad luck, including an unwitting taxi driver.

As befitting the organised nature of the protagonist, the movie is neatly divided into chapters as the Killer eliminates his target one by one from city to city, each chapter mainly concerns with how he executes his steps. If you’re ever considering setting up an assassin’s cache and seeking advice on the dos and don’ts, this movie could function as an instruction manual.

It doesn’t take long before the repetitiveness becomes a liability. The Killer locates the person (he can find just about anyone), puts together the tools he needs (he has a storage of anything he needs, from weapons to uniforms to license plates), stalks his target and when the moment is right, strikes. Each time he travels, the Killer flashes a fake ID using names of classic TV characters including Howard Cunningham, Sam Malone, Lou Grant, Archibald Bunker, Felix Unger and others. Fun as it appears to guess what name he’ll pick next, this is another example of inconsistency. Why would someone trying to slip under the radar calls attention to himself using explicitly noticeable names? At one point the Killer tells us “Avoid being seen. At least avoid being memorable”. He’s not even being ironic. It’s just bad writing.

The monotonous nature of The Killer feels more pronounced as it is, after all, a David Fincher film though I’m grateful that it’s not over-the-top and ludicrous in the mode of John Wick. Fincher finds the darkness in the protagonist’s psyche, as he always does in his movies, but this time he hasn’t quite dealt with it with much insight. He barely scratches the surface of the Killer’s psychological aspects, which is most frustrating. Of all the anti-heroes in Fincher’s movies, the Killer is just like the colour of his clothes: beige.

Michael Fassbender is basically an updated Rambo in a jungle of his own, a one-man army taking down his eco-system. The Killer is cold, calculated, meticulous and quick-thinking (as you’d expect nothing less) if only he had some personality. In a Q&A with the audience after an early screening, Fincher and Fassbender pointed out that the Killer’s blankness is deliberate so audiences could “fill in the character themselves”. Wish they hadn’t done that.

Just because I approached it with high expectations, I’m asking now is this the most mediocre David Fincher film? The Killer is a veneer of artistry from pedigreed filmmakers papering over blank spaces. Andrew Kevin Walker, who arguably helped kick Fincher’s career up a notch with his script for Se7en back in 1995, puts all his attention on the Killer’s inner monologues and leaves little for anything that isn’t part of the man’s standard operating procedure.

I get it that Fincher was trying to translate the cynicism and nihilism of the graphic novel source by Alexis Nolent and Luc Jacamon and render the Killer’s subjectivity cinematically. Then again, as I said at the beginning, a character like the Killer isn’t one to verbalise and share anything, let alone private thoughts. There is something fundamentally dissonant in hearing his persistent voiceover.

When a man whose entire existence is predicated on the utmost secrecy and invisibility gives you a blow-by-blow account of his actions and thoughts – for the entire length of the story – the delivery becomes unconvincing and incompatible with the nature of his character.

These self-aggrandizing monologues, over-used to the point of tedium, is why The Killer keeps losing its footing leading in the end to death by narration.

Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.

1 comentario

14 dic 2023

I thought it was stylish and watchable but not memorable. The voice over IS a tad irritating. It's got Tilda Swinton!

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