By Vincent Latigue
Image: Still from The Killer, dir. David Fincher
David Fincher’s The Killer does the impressive job of making a psychological action thriller neither thrilling nor thoughtful (with not a whole lot of action either). Starring Michael Fassbender in the titular role and shored up by a supporting cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, and Arliss Howard, it is fascinating to watch a film that had all the ingredients for success turn into a boring, bland advertisement for Postmates and FedEx. As a professional hitman shut off from his emotions and the moral dilemmas that arise from them, Fassbender’s The Killer narrates his routine and his thought process on his line of work as well as his view on the value of human life (or the lack thereof). When he bungles a job and must play cat-and-mouse with his employer and the other hitmen that cross his path, the calm and collected murderer for hire starts to unwind into a sadistic monster who likes to remind the audience how much he enjoys listening to The Smiths, his thoughts on food delivery services, and the security of billionaires. It’s a shame we couldn’t just watch all this unfold and instead had to listen to commentary from a narrator who isn’t engaging and isn’t enthused.
Which, to be fair to Fincher, is a narrative trope that he utilized sparsely in The Social Network to great effect and acclaim, so it’s not a surprise to see him lean on it here. What is surprising is how much this trope is used, often to the detriment of other elements of the film. At one point during our misanthropic protagonist’s adventure, he muses about creatine, the demographic makeup of the state of Florida, and how much Unisom (with the packaging prominently displayed) it takes to put a pit-bull to sleep. Can the audience not watch all of that unfold as our ruthless killer stalks his prey and prepares his trap? Or do we need to be constantly handheld through this journey, our protagonist making sure to stop every so often to give us fun facts like a demented tour guide?
And speaking of our tour guide, why exactly are we supposed to care about what happens to the protagonist? The movie makes no attempt to make him relatable, which, admittedly, is a difficult task because of his chosen occupation. What would seem to be the obvious choice, yet one that is never made, is the option of making the supporting cast more compelling. Why not expand upon The Killer’s girlfriend and her desire to be with someone who she knows virtually nothing about? Or maybe the other assassins and their reasons for wanting to join a brotherhood of violence and death where the victor is the highest bidder? Perhaps the well-to-do billionaire who wants to spend money to have someone killed in the first place? His motivations for choosing a more direct form of violence instead of the usual corporate acquisition or lobbying firm to do his bidding.
This globe-trotting misadventure that has our protagonist visiting France, the Dominican Republic, and the wonderful backwaters of Florida would have been better served on National Geographic where you could really take in the sights of these locations, not wasted on a dullard. In an interview with Deadline, Fincher stated that, “My hope is that someone will see this film and then get very nervous about the person behind them in line at Home Depot.” To be frank, the only person I’m nervous about is Fincher, who seems dedicated to being as meticulous as possible in a movie that is about as enjoyable as being waterboarded. Ultimately, Fincher seems to have made a film to remind everyone that he’s still making movies, just not good ones.
Tartaglione, Nancy. “David Fincher Talks ‘the Killer’; Says Hollywood Strikes Make Him ‘Very Sad’, but ‘I Can Understand Both Sides’ – Venice.” Deadline, Deadline, 3 Sept. 2023, deadline.com/2023/09/david-fincher-the-killer-hollywood-strikes-venice-film-festival-1235535246/.