The Killer – Review

The Killer Netflix Michael FassbenderDavid Fincher’s latest thriller, The Killer, is probably the antithesis of what many have come to anticipate from the “hitman’s revenge” kind of film. It is still; it defies its own mantras about not allowing emotion in; it is relatively low key. It almost revels in its own lack of high octane action sequences and, instead, reminds us that being a contract killer is a lot of waiting around and blending in.

This makes it sound like it’s a film not worth watching. However, the opposite is true. Whilst it might not contain the gore and shocks of Se7en or the real life terror of Zodiac, The Killer offers up interesting insight into the mind of its titular character and demonstrates how quickly a seemingly meticulous existence can unravel.

For the vast majority of the film, we do not see Michael Fassbender’s character speak. Instead, we are allowed into his world via extensive voiceover, his thoughts permeating almost every scene. The opening sequence allows us to understand his rigorousness; a “by the numbers” approach to his job. Indeed, even his sleep patterns are determined by the little beeps and buzzes from his watch. He explains that his job really is quite boring – a lot of sitting doing nothing whilst trying to notice everything – but that he cannot ever deviate from his plan.

The first twenty to thirty minutes feel like an even more heightened version of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. We watch, with the titular character, as he observes a traditional Parisian apartment block from his spot in an abandoned WeWork office. He notices the comings and goings within the building; who turns on their lights at which times; who heads to the restaurant down below for a coffee. All he does is watch … and wait for the perfect moment to pick off his target.

Whilst the tension builds and builds during this sequence, Fincher plunges us all into chaos when the hit goes wrong. From there, “The Killer” abandons most of his own self-imposed rules in order to exact revenge on those who have harmed his loved ones as a result of his own misfire. It could almost certainly be argued that the opening sequence is the best of the film. It is fraught with tension and yet imbued with nothingness. Although the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to this, it is, nonetheless, thoroughly watchable.

There’s rarely a moment in this film where you actually feel like you can breathe. There’s one sequence, where “The Killer” drives down a sunny Dominican coastal road, that allows you to reasonably catch your breath. The rest of the time, we are trained, like him, to always be watching. And, in that sense, we are always anticipating. Whenever Fassbender sits on a bench, hires a car, or pops into a storage locker, we are constantly scanning the screen, looking for clues. Fincher is clearly enjoying teasing us as the action that does unfold is relatively formulaic. But it’s this keeping us on edge that allows The Killer to be a successful slow burn. It wouldn’t be a Fincher film without such a high level of obsessive detail, after all.

The Killer Netflix Michael FassbenderThere are a couple of low-key violent deaths and one rather chaotic hand-to-hand combat sequence. Which seems ridiculous for a film with this name. But it doesn’t actually need a John Wick style showcase of violence. This is a film about the small details; about waiting; about doing nothing. Even when face to face with other characters, “The Killer” rarely utters more than a sentence or two. Instead, he allows their fear to do the talking, the begging. It creates a hugely impactful power dynamic, with Fassbender often shot from below or in extreme close up. His killings feel way more intimate than they have any right to be.

The soundtrack comprises largely of The Smiths tracks, which would be enough to make anyone commit widespread acts of violence, but it somehow works with the sombre tone of the character. Dressed in various swathes of beige and grey, Fassbender is someone you would walk past in the street without paying too much attention to. He is distinctly normal; unremarkable.

The Killer is one of these films that makes you want to accurately record every detail about everyone you meet within a day. The incredible level of detail is what really draws you in here. Fassbender gives a moody, taciturn performance, rarely allowing for so much of a hint of emotion in his voice. This notion of precise routine and methodical execution appears to fly out the window as “The Killer” embarks on his revenge spree but it never truly leaves us as viewers. Fincher leaves you seeking the detail out in every single inch of the screen.

It may well prove to be too much of a slow burn for some; for others, it may seem a bit too “revenge drama by numbers”, but The Killer is yet another fascinating piece of work from the mind of David Fincher.

The Killer is now streaming on Netflix.

Mary Munoz
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