It’s been five days. Nothing. Patience wears thin but is necessary for this type of work. Most days are spent looking out a window, surveying the world outside. Careful planning is paramount. Calculations must be precise. Resolve must be steely. Heartbeat under 60. “Stick to your plan. Anticipate, don’t improvise”. Downtime is spent in the pursuit of physical perfection. Combining unnatural contortions along with the efficient consumption of protein makes the goal attainable. Unavoidable sleep is carefully scheduled, with equal amounts of time dedicated to distinct postures. The mind keeps itself active, musing about the justification of existence. A life’s worth of experiences leads it to absolute conclusions. Ultimately, things are made possible because “I. Do. Not. Give. A. Fuck.” It’s been five days. Nothing.
For the first time since collaborating on Se7en, David Fincher and Andrew Kevin Walker combine pens on the Netflix release, The Killer. Exploring the persona of the arcane is what Fincher does best. He is not new to this. The intense interior monologue in the mind of the nameless assassin (Michael Fassbender) provides most of the film’s words. These musings unmistakably originate in Fincher’s thought vault, loaded with his brand of nihilism, violence, anarchy, and dark humor.
Potential energy is the force that dominates the onset. Once things are set in motion, the results are frequently brutal. The opportunity for the assassin to close out his contract finally presents itself. But things go awry. His perfect batting average is blemished. The Killer finds himself in an unfamiliar situation: having to improvise when the mission does not go according to plan. He eludes French authorities and completes his escape when he arrives at his home in the Dominican Republic, only to find someone got there and to his wife before him. This leads the Killer on a globe-trekking mission of retribution, even though he swears it is not personal.
The Killer is presented in seven chapters, alluding to the source material, the French graphic novel of the same name by Alexis Nolent and Luc Jacamon. Each chapter is dedicated to the different stops the assassin makes to visit those culpable of his predicament. The lawyer (Charles Parnell), the Brute (Sala Baker), the Expert (Tilda Swinton) and the Client (Arliss Howard). During each stop, the Killer must use a different set of skills to defeat his enemies. His bag of tricks includes staple guns, neck snaps, pharmacology, (for calming down dogs) beatdowns, and reliable point-blank finishes. The multi-tasking phenomenon lends itself to the entertainingly absurd, with the protagonist’s thoughts adding plenty of dark and hilarious ponderings throughout.
The assassin is cold and calculated throughout his ordeal. He unaffectedly listens to his eventual victims until necessary, disposing of them when he no longer needs them. However, throughout his revenge relay, not only do the targets become more intense but so do the inner battles. The Killer reveals via his thoughts he is no longer assured about his purpose. The stone where his rules are set begins to soften. “How is the part of not caring going?” During his visit with The Expert, she offers a parable that forces a true moment of introspection. The creed he repeatedly recites just before completing a mission becomes interrupted. The steadfast resolve becomes wonky. The humanity creeping into his frigid composition threatens his eventual undoing.
The most pressing idea of the entire ordeal comes in the form of relatability. The assassin is not unlike the billions (7.8 to be exact) of people who inhabit the earth, much less than by the people that surround him in his daily life. Trips to McDonald’s are customary. He shops using Amazon Prime and uses services such as We Works to reserve his next office space. He travels from location to location, looking to complete a job. Forgettable and mundane rental cars transport him to and from his workplace. The assassin, like many of us, listens to music to calm his nerves (being particularly endeared to The Smiths). The convenience Post Mates offers is not taken for granted by the assassin, nor is the curbside pickup prevalent today. Furthermore, not unlike an Uber driver waiting around waiting for his next job, the assassin also experiences wait times between work opportunities.
In the case of the Killer, however, his survival means someone else must die. The not-too-subtle indictment by Fincher on the indifference that prevails in current socio-political affairs extends beyond the attitude of the assassin. It holds a mirror to audiences, regardless of whether we want to accept what we see in the reflection.
With The Killer, Fincher offers his dark and devious best. Along with his tendencies, he packs the nearly two-hour film with tension and suspense, all while allowing Fassbender’s murderous pantomime to dominate the screen. Fassbender’s approach is calm, confident, and strong. His presence draws audiences into his devious ways. Fincher sees to it that his character is relatable, Fassbender puts us to shame by making him likable.
Adding their unique skill set to the production are the musical super tandem, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. Their reach and influence in the film have extended the length of Nine Inch Nails and now permeate through the best soundtracks. With The Killer, they fill the sonic void in between The Smith’s catalog with muffled clanks and ethereal tones. Sounds that might be like what someone being submitted to a clean drowning might hear for a final time. Frequent Fincher collaborator Erik Messerschmidt is entrusted with the cinematography. Even though he plays it relatively safe, the shots are confident and evoke a pulp crime thriller feel throughout.
Even though The Killer falls short of the summit of Fincher’s classics, it is easily his most enjoyable and rewatchable work. The film enthralls viewers at every stop of the assassin’s journey. Once back home, one can calmly lay back and satisfactorily accept the results of the precedes. Maybe we are not all that dissimilar after all.