Stick to the plan, trust no one, forbid empathy, anticipate, don’t improvise; The mantra of Michael Fassbender’s assassin is repeated throughout David Fincher’s “The Killer” as the eponymous character narrates the brooding action thriller giving a glimpse inside the mind of a gun-for-hire. He’s meticulous, cautious, and disciplined so when a hit goes awry the fallout is severe. Based on the French comic books by Matz and Luc Jacamon the 70s-influenced film moves at a steady pace as it ventures into neo-noir territory.
What does a contract killer listen to on his AirPods to concentrate on a target? The 1958 album “Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music To Be Murdered By?” Try “The Very Best of The Smiths.” When you have someone in the crosshairs, “How Soon Is Now” seems to be the ideal choice. When Fincher isn’t blasting Manchester’s finest, he lets Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross set the tone with a downtempo score that prowls through each frame while our protagonist searches for his next victim.
“Paris awakens unlike any other city” comments our unnamed assassin, “Slowly.” He sits on a folding chair in an abandoned high-rise across from a penthouse apartment, waiting for his target to arrive as dawn breaks in the City of Lights.
The voice-over narration by Fassbender, who shall be known from this point on as “The Killer,” is slow and relaxed, each word clearly enunciated. I could easily listen to an eBook by the actor who sounds a bit like his android character Walter in “Alien: Covenant.”
Finally, the mark arrives accompanied by a dominatrix. As Morrissey sings, “I go about things the wrong way” it sounds ironic since the killer is so meticulous; A pulse monitor measures his heart rate. A reading under 60 is optimal for the assassin, however, for most, it could be a sign of Bradycardia with a trip to the ER in sight.
As the killer aims his rifle and takes the shot, the unexpected happens. He misses the intended victim, accidentally killing the sex worker. Quickly he breaks down his weapon, scurries out the door, and jumps on a moped making a hasty departure through the narrow streets of Paris while police sirens wail in the background.
When you hear the word “hitman,” John Wick may come to mind, but this is not that kind of assassin film. Apart from a frenzied and violent mano-a-mano fight scene in Florida (grueling to watch and skillfully choreographed), Fincher moves the action at a steady pace.
Charles Parnell (“Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning”) plays The Killer’s handler Hodges who is upset at his assassin for flubbing the hit. “Obviously it’s a f—kin’ problem to say the least” he explains on the phone and then goes on to say he’ll try and make it right with the client, a billionaire named Claybourne played by wonderful character actor Arliss Howard.
The film is divided into six chapters across several locations including Paris, The Dominican Republic, New Orleans, Florida, New York, and Chicago. The cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt, who worked previously with Fincher on “Mank” and the series “Mindhunter,” is striking at times, Shot in Super 35, the visual palette is crisp and sharp with plenty of Fassbender closeups. Colorist Eric Weidt uses a mixture of warm and cool filters to set the tone opening with a calm blue hue then switching to a warm yellow filter as the action begins to intensify.
Working from a screenplay by “Se7en” scribe Andrew Kevin Walker, who incorporates elements of the 1995 thriller, we watch as The Killer turns into a detective after discovering an assassination attempt on his girlfriend Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) at his hideout in The Dominican Republic. Of course, the assassin or assassins were looking for our protagonist and, in that sense, you could say that a shade of John Wick exists in the story.
Fincher was inspired by the 1967 Alain Delon hitman thriller “Le Samouraï” which explains the neo-noir elements in “The Killer” and a few subtle similarities including the French location and the light-colored clothing. Also, there is a heavy 70s vibe prevalent throughout reminiscent of films like “The Day of the Jackal” and “The Eiger Sanction.”
It’s been too long since we’ve seen Michael Fassbender on the big screen (4 years). Fittingly, “The Killer” is a one-man show. It’s the perfect vehicle for the actor who doesn’t get lost in a large cast or overshadowed by special effects as in the “X-Men” and “Alien” franchises. You must go way back to 2015’s “Steve Jobs” for this degree of Fassbender.
“The Killer” is a welcomed return for David Fincher to “Se7en” and “Zodiac” territory but with a heavy 70s vibe and the aesthetics of a Foreign thriller. Adding levity to the film, Fassbender’s nameless character uses plenty of recognizable aliases such as George Jefferson, Felix Unger, and Sam Malone. And as a bonus, we get a great cameo by Tilda Swinton as fellow assassin “The Expert” that begs for a spinoff.
Now showing in theaters and streaming on Netflix