In Hollywood, there is often an evident correlation between a given filmmaker’s popularity and the scope of their projects, with both factors typically increasing alongside each other. “The Killer” stands unflinchingly as a deviant to this pattern. Based on the French comic book of the same name, “The Killer”, released Nov. 10 as a Netflix exclusive, is the newest addition to the portfolio of legendary director David Fincher. Known for such renowned films as “Fight Club,” “Se7en,” “Zodiac” and “The Social Network,” Fincher returns to the crime-thriller genre with “The Killer.” Given his prestige, he demonstrates an unexpected sense of restraint. Forgoing the persistent suspense and nail-biting mystery commonly associated with this genre, the film relishes its bare-bones simplicity. In doing so, while perhaps failing to be as widely captivating as Fincher’s previous works, it provides a fresh spin on a tired narrative framework.
“The Killer” follows an unnamed perfectionist assassin, portrayed by Michael Fassbender, after he fails to complete a job requested by a mysterious client known as Claybourne. Upon returning to Santo Domingo, he discovers that Claybourne’s subordinates have prematurely broken into his home to deliver punishment for this shortcoming, an incident that leaves his girlfriend severely injured. Consequently, the Killer sets out on a relentless, violent hunt for those involved in the break-in, where he gradually loses sight of the apathetic attitude he believes necessary for his line of work.
Though the film’s description on paper is derivative of countless other revenge-driven stories, “The Killer” distinguishes itself through its unwavering commitment to immersing viewers in the unique perspective of its titular protagonist. The film’s opening chapter makes this objective abundantly clear, closely following the Killer as he stakes out the target for the aforementioned job in Paris. Markedly uneventful in terms of plot progression, the opening segment focuses on providing meaningful insight into the protagonist’s psyche via a series of internal monologues. Applied throughout the remainder of the film, this approach accomplishes spades in fleshing out his cold, calculating demeanor and establishing the largely dull procedural nature with which he views his profession.
The slow, methodical presentation of the story remains consistently anchored by Fassbender’s subdued performance. Fassbender brilliantly captures the callous analytic behavior of the Killer, while also communicating an emotional subtlety that prevents the character from feeling like a one-note caricature. When paired with the sheer amount of focus that is placed on the protagonist above all other aspects of the film, this believability adds a sense of compelling discomfort as viewers essentially become one with the Killer along his journey.
Fincher’s unconventionally dull approach to this type of narrative is not without its moments of excitement. However, much like other aspects of the film, these sequences are noticeably stripped down, strengthening the link between events as the Killer experiences them and viewers’ perceptions of those events. For example, early on in the film, the Killer is forced to escape from his hideout and evade the incoming law enforcement on a motorbike. One would reasonably expect this scene to become a high-intensity chase with flashy cinematography, a heart-pounding score and enthralling vehicle choreography. The film instead presents a much more minimal sequence, showing the Killer avoiding police at a brisk pace with a soundscape only consisting of the hum of vehicle engines and distant sirens interspersed with the protagonist’s mildly uneasy breathing. Lacking the theatrics expected from a scene of this ilk, it effectively communicates the Killer’s quiet, internal panic in an unfamiliar situation. A similar minimalist ideology is employed throughout the rest of the film, creating a cold and distant atmosphere that complements the titular character.
A bold addition to Fincher’s iconic filmography, “The Killer” directly juxtaposes with the director’s previous works of the same overarching genre. In presenting a story that is intentionally slow-paced and unexciting at the surface, the film exudes an unbothered confidence that reflects the attitude of the Killer himself. While the film’s understated quality will likely leave some viewers unsatisfied, others will take comfort in its distinct simplicity.