2023 | rated R | starring Michael Fassbender | directed by David Fincher | 1h 58m |

[Contains Strong Language]

When a contract killer (Michael Fassbender) botches a job in Paris, retaliation is swift and brutal, so the killer, uses his infiltration skills, goes on a globe-trotting spree to find the contract holder who stepped out of line and make them pay.

A few filmmakers still make them like they used to and David Fincher is one of them. It’s why the release of a new Tarantino, Scorsese and Fincher film still feels like something to be cherished. He has his own style but it also feels deliberately built on the shoulders of cinematic giants that came before him and of which he knows the history of. It’s why The Killer works so well. It’s a simple, streamlined movie, a trope in and of itself – the hitman with a heart of gold who gets revenge – and yet it’s made absorbing by Fincher’s handiwork and sheer talent. Much like the way Christopher Nolan made a standard bio-pic into a existential terror earlier this year with Oppenheimer. It’s not going to blow your mind but it’s a fun watch.

I actually loved the first section of the film. I would watch a TV show where each week we watch for 30 minutes a contract hitman immerse themselves into society and slowly and methodically wait for the moment to be right to strike. It’s the strongest, most unique segment of the film, dominated entirely by Fassbender’s narration and Fincher’s Rear Window-esque visuals peering out the window of an abandoned office building and onto the Parisian street below. Watching the routine of shops opening up in the morning and people coming home at night. If it wasn’t shot in the City of Lights, it looks like it was – full of narrow, dirty streets clogged with parked mopeds.

It’s when the movie goes away from Fincher’s expertise with workmanlike procedurals that it gets less interesting. An attack on his family – a young girl, whom the movie doesn’t explain her relationship to The Killer. Fill in your own story here, I took it as a daughter or daughter-figure. Maybe he saved her from a life of drugs and prostitution, maybe she’s just his girlfriend. Either way, she’s the McGuffin and the man who doesn’t give a fuck finally gives a fuck.

Or does he? The Killer has an unsolved identity crisis in how it sketches it’s anti-hero. Based on his actions in the opening, this is a cool, calm, emotionless psychopath who exists almost outside of our world, of our social conventions, of our sense of right and wrong, of our relationships. That’s – I would say – the way to play this movie. That silent, stoic expert more along the lines of the driver in Drive. That’s where Fincher and frequent collaborative screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) should have gone. This is contradicted by his narration, which early declares that he’s good at his job because he “doesn’t give a fuck”. He says it with such pronounced emotion that it’s as if he’s trying to prove to us or himself that is the case. He clearly does give a fuck. He’s also clearly connected to the pop culture world given his pension for going by aliases of well-known sitcom characters.

Further while we see him do a lot of clever things to evade capture in his travels, we also don’t see him being an expert at his job. There is no scene like the opening of Drive where we see Ryan Gosling’s character as a skilled get-away driver. He isn’t given the gravitas of Liam Neeson’s in Taken where we know that when he threatens terrorists with his certain set of skills he means it. We see Fassbender’s hitman immediately screw up the hit.

That, Fincher and Walker may say, is the point. The Killer even declares himself ordinary, just like everyone else. Which contradicts the skillful way he navigates the crime scene in Puerto Rico, infiltrates his bosses New Orleans office and sits before his target in a restaurant in New York. This is one of those movies where he sits in silence across the table and the cameo character (in this case Tilda Swindon) carries pages worth of monologue for the both of them.

I wouldn’t say The Killer is slow. It’s leisurely paced, all around, with Fincher’s trade-mark ice-cold distance. It looks terrific all around, but particularly in that opening sequence and in a mid-film fight scene that is one of the best of the year. The Killer is a technical work of art that refreshingly runs in the DNA of classic studio 40s and 50s filmmaking. But Walker hasn’t decided what he wants to use The Killer to say and as a result it’s an unfinished character that gives the film a split personality as a character study. That indecision, Fincher’s use of Chapters to break the pace and the overall anti-climactic nature of it all, keep the movie from soaring to the heights of his previous blockbusters.