The Killer

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, Tilda Swinton, Arliss Howard


Director: David Fincher


118 mins

David Fincher’s film, The Killer, calls back to the director’s Fight Club adaptation, letting the viewer in on an unnamed lead character’s inner monologue. In frank voiceover, the titular assassin (Michael Fassbender) relates thoughts that span from quotes to live by, to job-focused tactics to the mantra that keeps him fully concentrated. “Stick to the plan. Trust no one. Anticipate, don't improvise. Fight only the battle you're paid to fight.” He speaks of what he calls “the void of life,” and how his ability to recognise it sets him apart – not one of the many, but the few. In his seemingly untouchable way, though, he is part of an even more exclusive group: he is the only, and something about that is always ready to be cracked and broken by fate. The Killer is a return to form for Fincher, who has made meals of these kinds of stories in the past, but with this film, he expertly lays bare how untouchability is dismantled by emotion, and how that can force even the most calculated into a quest for a kind of absolution – even a bloody one. Fassbender’s character is unflinchingly good at his job, precise in all the ways that would make anyone capable of the emotional compartmentalisation necessary to be a first-rate murderer. Despite being a destroyer of worlds, the killer is, at least, truthful in his thoughts, and it allows the viewing audience to root for him as a complicated protagonist. We meet him keeping watch meticulously, doing yoga in a run-down Paris hideout. When a run-of-the-mill assignment goes wrong, he is forced to adjust his methods, craft a plan to save his skin, and get satisfying revenge in the only way he knows how.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s script – based on the French graphic novel series by Alexis “Matz” Nolent – strikes the right tone, giving the killer a compelling desire to keep control of his circumstances. Walker’s work even brings a sense of humanity to the character with small telling elements within the killer’s monologues – moments where we see that his emotional life is as rich as our own. Fassbender is smart and stylish in the role, giving us a quiet but weightily enigmatic performance that leans into the lone-wolf necessities of this perverse line of work. Occasionally, he seems like someone you might find fairly likeable if you met him on the street; in other moments, his ruthless brutality is on full display. Tilda Swinton has a small part in the film, but it's nevertheless a pivotal one, and she perfectly embodies the qualities of wise and seasoned, yet resigned. To give anything further away about her character would be a spoiler, but it’s a delight to see her show up in this story, even for just this one scene. Another short-but-sweet appearance in The Killer comes from a less likely source: BBC journalist Fiona Bruce - an interesting bit of casting. Naturally, the film is full of murders, but when the killing ramps up – and it does – the big fight scene is a joy. That may seem morbid, but the scene is impeccably choreographed, cut, and edited, to the point where it’s impossible to look away. The violence is captivating – which might say a lot about society, but Fincher capitalises on our proclivities, even the bloody ones, in a similar fashion to the way he did in Fight Club. There is also a sly but nifty reference to co-soundtrack supplier Trent Reznor’s other occupation as a member of a particular band. (Plus if you are a confirmed gladioli thruster, there are numerous songs from The Smiths appropriately offered across the entire feature). By the end of his odyssey, the killer admits something to us. If we too can see the void, then maybe we’re all actually just one of the many – and maybe, we’re like him. It’s a poignant closing moment and a reversal of his original philosophy that tells us something crucial about this character: he ultimately always wanted to be one of the many, one of the people who can shed the skin they live in and find some kind of peace within that void. With the ending Fincher and Walker give to the killer, full of satisfaction and a prescient calm after the storm, it seems like he may have got his wish.