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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

The Killer // Film Review

"I'm not exceptional, I'm just a part."

Though he rejects the term “perfectionist”, there is infamously a meticulous nature to the work ethic of David Fincher. His priority is efficiency, but he’ll also allegedly retake a shot hundreds of times if he thinks it will yield a slightly better result. In that sense, it is clear why Fincher might be drawn to a project like The Killer, an adaptation of Matz Nolent’s graphic novel about a hired assassin reckoning with the worst thing that can ever happen to someone in a routine job: boredom.

The Killer is a story about processes, centred on a man (Michael Fassbender) who kills for a living, yet treats his profession with the same disinterest as one might treat an office job. He does his assignments without question and knows every trick of the trade to make them that bit more convenient. In his own words, he is “one of the masses”, endeared to us despite his sinister profession (which has no moral code - he’ll kill on both sides of the law without discretion) because of his mundane attitude. He drinks Starbucks on stakeouts, wonders aloud if his hideouts will ever be featured on Storage Wars and laments that he used to use AirBnB for his jobs until the supposed ‘Superhosts’ did his head in.

Despite regularly enacting terrific plans of surveillance, recon and execution, Fassbender plays the titular Killer (who goes by many names) like a tired commuter. The performance is simultaneously chilling and hilarious, which is essential given that he is the only character with more than one scene across the entire film. His journey is structured around six ‘chapters’ (aka ‘hits’), each of which is bookended by Fassbender’s killer arriving and then departing from the nearest airport, his latest mission accomplished. It’s a properly global thriller which can occasionally feel quite video-gamey, with targets more like boss battles, but Fincher is reliably good at affording a distinguished look and even tone to each new stage.

But of course, what really interests both Fincher and Fassbender is less the globetrotting adventure and more the process of making these escapades happen. Considerably more time is given to the set-ups, stakeouts and sleights of hand that enable the kills which later follow. Even the title sequence, which commences immediately without a prelude, focuses in on the assembly of the Killer's weaponry and the forgery of his many documents and disguises. Before every hit, Fassbender’s killer is required to build his guns and set into motion clean entrance and exit plans, which lends the film more of a logic puzzle rhythm than the “gun-fu” seen in many other hitman stories. The message is clear; being an assassin is tedious work.

True to his working man performance, Fassbender adds to this ordeal with a constant voiceover narration which tends to undermine rather than embellish his extraordinary career path. He has a list of rules which he repeats to himself constantly, including principles such as: “anticipate, don’t improvise” or “never yield an advantage”. Over the course of the film, he will break every one of these rules, to the effect that one might start to suspect this titular killer is, like many 9-to-5 workers, actually not all that great at his job. And that’s the key, because above all else The Killer has got an exquisite sense of humour.

David Fincher is perhaps best known for his precise compositions and noir thrills, but The Killer is emblematic of what might be his most underappreciated skill; an acute comic timing. This is undoubtedly Fincher’s funniest film to date, in addition to being a self-deprecating reflection on his own working approach. In short, the thing is a blast, and the fact that it gets Michael Fassbender to wear so many silly hats is just the cherry on top.

Reviewed at the Venice Film Festival.


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