After his dip into Hollywood’s Golden Age with Mank, David Fincher is back on more familiar terrain with The Killer. Premiering in competition at the Venice International Film Festival, it’s a lurid crime thriller that, to some degree, chimes with Fincher’s 1995 masterpiece Se7en.
Both are scripted by Andrew Kevin Walker, who here adapts a French graphic novel by Alexis ‘Matz’ Nolent. Even the credits, glimpses of various methods of execution, recall the innovative opening from Se7en, when the killer is preparing his crimes.
In The Killer, Fincher strips back to the bone. Michael Fassbender returns to our screens as a hitman who, when the story opens, is staking out a target in Paris.
The influence of French-set films like The Day of the Jackal and Le Samouraï is evident here, as Fassbender’s unnamed killer unpacks his ethos in an extensive voice-over in which he suggests that “weakness is vulnerability” and that you should “fight only the battle you’re paid to fight”.
Like a tiger, he stalks for his prey for days, coiled and ready to pounce.
Intriguingly, this assassin’s own weakness is that he has a relationship, living with a woman in the Dominican Republic – something that comes under threat when his job in Paris goes wrong, and he misses his target.
His own home invaded and his partner left badly beaten as a result, suddenly, he’s caught in the cross hairs as his paymasters want him dead.
He must get to them first, and this leads him on a jaunt to New Orleans, Florida, New York and finally Chicago, as he ruthlessly cleans up the mess his momentary miss created.
Unfolding across six chapters, The Killer sees Fincher and Walker lean into black comedy, whether it’s the protagonist’s need to listen to The Smiths whilst on a job or his wry comment about the six lock-ups he has across the United States; imagine the episode of reality TV show Storage Wars, he says, when they open up one of his spaces, filled with the deadly paraphernalia of his job.
Admittedly, it’s tough to buy that a hitman would maintain a personal relationship (albeit hidden away in Central America), and the film’s minimalist characterisation can be put down to the source material.
But Fassbender sells the character perfectly, finding the balance between solo operator and a man who still retains some semblance of humanity.
Co-starring the likes of Tilda Swinton and Arliss Howard in small but key roles, The Killer emerges from its self-imposed gloom as a cool, cult crime yarn made with lashings of style.
The Killer will start streaming on Netflix on November 10.
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