The Killer

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Killer
dir David Fincher
scr Andrew Kevin Walker
prd Cean Chaffin, William Doyle, Peter Mavromates
with Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, Arliss Howard, Kerry O'Malley, Sophie Charlotte, Emiliano Pernia, Gabriel Polanco, Sala Baker, Endre Hules, Monique Ganderton, Bernard Bygott
release US 27.Oct.23,
UK 10.Nov.23
23/US Paramount 1h58

fassbender swinton howard
london film fest

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Steely and clinical, this stylised hitman thriller plays out in a series of carefully planned set-pieces, reflecting the approach of both Michael Fassbender's eponymous killer and director David Fincher. It looks terrific, churning skilfully through action, intrigue and pitch-black drama, each scene infused with wry wit and icy violence. Yet while the artistry is first-rate, the film lacks an emotional connection that might have pulled us in deeper.
A fastidious gunman (Fassbender) describes his painstaking process as he prepares to make a hit in Paris, patiently watching and waiting for the right moment. After it goes wrong, he heads home to his hideout in the Dominican Republic, where he finds his girlfriend (Charlotte) has been brutally assaulted. To get to the bottom of it, he pays visits to his lawyer (Parnell) in New Orleans, a thug (Baker) in Florida and an expert (Swinton) in New York, then on to Chicago to face the client (Howard). Each stop is a life or death situation.
Each of these episodes unfolds with its own distinct blending of dry humour, grim determination and cold-blooded brutality. It's an entertaining concoction that is hugely watchable thanks to Fassbender, who brings his full-bodied energy to the role. While it would be impossible to actually like his character, his attention to detail is at least admirable, and his approach to his overall mission has a driving intensity that's engaging. So we root for him when he faces adversity, even if we cringe at the vicious ways he deals with it.

The best scene in the film is his taut face-off with Swindon, whose cool, sardonic performance balances a range of unspoken ideas. It's a terrific sequence that beautifully plays on the central thesis that an assassin must suppress all empathy. O'Malley is also terrific as the only sympathetic character in the film, a woman who is simply in the wrong job at the wrong time. Each person this killer stalks creates a distinct level of intensity, whether verbal barbs, physical clashes or cold, hard stares.

While Fassbender's voiceover narration plays out like a rather sinister Ted Talk, there isn't much going on underneath the film's handsome surface. And his deliberately opaque persona, even as he is revealing his secrets both directly and inadvertently, holds us at a good distance. Expert cinematography, editing and sound add to the visceral effect, but we're watching his story and learning his lessons from a distance, fascinated but never moved.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Oct.23 lff

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall