Home » ‘The Killer’ Review – David Fincher’s Sleek Revenge Thriller is a Huge Win | Venice 2023

‘The Killer’ Review – David Fincher’s Sleek Revenge Thriller is a Huge Win | Venice 2023

by Ben Rolph
Michael Fassbender stars as the main unnamed assassin wearing a white bucket hat and sunglasses in THE KILLER directed by David Fincher on Netflix.

David Fincher’s latest kicks off with yet another visually imaginative opening credits sequence that leads to the introduction of our titular assassin played by Michael Fassbender. Based on the French graphic novel of the same name by Alexis “Matz” Nolent and Luc Jacamon, The Killer, as its title suggests, follows a cold hitman with little remorse for his victims. Following his 2020 black-and-white biographical drama Mank, this can be seen as a return to Fincher’s trademark form. On paper, The Killer feels like a perfect fit for the filmmaker behind modern neo-noir thrillers like Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. By no means is this Fincher’s finest picture, but it is still so thoroughly gripping from start to finish in its calculated approach.

Modern-day, Paris. Across the street from a luxurious hotel, our nameless contract killer (Michael Fassbender) watches as he awaits his next target. After days of waiting, the target finally steps into his line of vision but things go sideways and chaos ensues. Having escaped from France, the killer heads back to his safe house in the Dominican Republic where he must face the consequences of messing up the hit. What follows is a classic revenge tale as our assassin methodically targets his employers, and anyone associated with them, for the real reasons behind the failed mission. Split into many chapters, The Killer is a globe-trotting thriller that willingly places the audience in allegiance with its sick protagonist. It makes for a nerve-racking viewing experience as David Fincher utilizes extreme levels of suspense to keep engagement high at all times. 

The Killer is slow and razer-focused just like its protagonist. Everything is seamless and perfectly executed on all technical fronts. Oscar-winning cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt works his magic by conjuring some sublime imagery dosed in grime and darkness. Pairing with the superb visuals to build immense tension are composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who have created another pulsating, electronic-based original score in their fifth feature collaboration with Fincher. The music and sound design are vital to this atmospheric revenge thriller, the audience is continuously on the edge of their seats anticipating the next shocking twist and turn. Following Alfred Hitchcock’s “bomb theory” which describes how to induce suspense in any spectator, The Killer quickly establishes the sheer brutality of its cruel protagonist and so anyone that crosses his path has a high probability of death. 

Michael Fassbender as the main nameless assassin loads a gun in the back of a taxi in the Netflix movie THE KILLER.
Michael Fassbender in ‘The Killer’ courtesy of Netflix

Michael Fassbender, in his first on-screen performance in four years, hits the mark with his restrained and icy turnout as the titular unnamed assassin. The opening sequence is indicative of his character as he methodically explains the toughest aspect of being a hired gun: having patience. Fassbender’s moody narration fills the movie’s runtime, giving us a gateway into his deep and darkest thoughts. As a device for engagement, this narration is crucial given the little amount of speaking that Fassbender’s killer actually does. Having such unlimited access to the protagonist’s internal workings is extremely unnerving as it’s hard to fathom how one could be so devoid of feelings, but Fassbender pulls it off effortlessly.

David Fincher’s directorial touch is so assured and full of conviction that one never questions the somewhat ridiculous nature of the plot, seeing Michael Fassbender’s killer hunt down target after target across international borders, Taken-style. Tilda Swinton has a small role as another assassin called “The Expert” but is nevertheless one of the greatest encounters of the movie. Fassbender, assured and cold, next to Swinton, lively and smart, is the perfect hunter-prey pairing. On that note, each actor that Fassbender faces off against, from Charles Parnell (Top Gun: Maverick) to Sala Baker (The Lord of the Rings), is equally as interesting in different ways. The film’s supporting cast each presents a new challenge for Fassbender’s character, slowly revealing new sides to his lethal persona. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) adapts the source material vividly, giving everyone just enough room to leave an impression on the viewer.

A dark silhouette of Michael Fassbender aiming a sniper rifle in the Netflix movie THE KILLER directed by David Fincher.
Michael Fassbender in ‘The Killer’ courtesy of Netflix

The Killer churns along to a nice rhythm, David Fincher never overcomplicates things and keeps everything rather simple when it comes to the structure. But said rhythm is broken numerous times by ace dialogue and some breakneck action. Fincher’s best fight scene yet occurs towards the back half, it’s raw and brutal in its cinematic execution and brilliant stunt work. It shocks the imposed structure by being so different from the violent scenes prior. The straightforward nature of Andrew Kevin Walker’s script works to Fincher’s advantage as he plays around more with the protagonist’s introspective narration. Albeit, the only drawback is that there is very little room for the killer’s backstory as the narrative has such forward-flowing momentum. Thus, it’s possible to come out wanting more as Fincher and Fassbender have brought such a fascinating character to life with huge baggage to potentially explore.

David Fincher’s The Killer is definitely not a film for the faint of heart. With enough suspense and visceral action, the director’s simplistic yet stylish hitman thriller is a pulsating win. Meticulous cinematography, music, and sound design really build a sinister atmosphere perfect for Michael Fassbender to fit in as his unforgiving assassin. This masterfully crafted revenge tale is bound to be a hit among Fincher’s fans, it contains his usual ingredients for filmmaking while also being more streamlined than normal. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Killer premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival. The film releases on Netflix November 10!

Follow Senior Film Critic Ben Rolph on Twitter: @THEDCTVSHOW

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