Film Review

The Killer (2023)

todayFebruary 15, 2024 56

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of David Fincher, Michael Fassbinder, slow-burn action, philosophical antiheroes

David Fincher signed a deal with Netflix in 2020 for four years and has now renewed it for three more years. Both parties must be happy with the agreement.  From this contract, Fincher has released the feature films Mank and now The Killer.  He has also directed an episode of Love, Death, and Robots as well as producing the entire series.  He has also produced the excellent film essay series Voir and the insightful documentary Is That Black Enough for You??.  This relationship is further complicated by the fact that Netflix canceled his brilliant series MIndhunters right before this deal was signed.  The world of streaming services and feature film production is a mixed blessing.  I am happy that they are funding these films by talented filmmakers, but I also am frustrated that I have a limited opportunity to see these films on the big screen in a theater.  All of this leads up to how surprised I was with how much I enjoyed seeing The Killer at home on my small screen by myself.

Fincher has made a career out of precision and technique.  He is always pushing the technology of the art form.  He is without a doubt one of the greatest music video directors of all time, forming and shaping the 1980’s visual landscape.  He has made some of the most influential films of the 1990’s and 2000’s. He has earned the opportunity to take his time with films such as The Killer. The story is deceptively simple.  An assassination attempt by the Killer is unsuccessful and he must then protect himself whilst investigating who is trying to now eliminate him.

Methodical is the best word to describe the film and the lead character, identified only as the Killer.  In fact, all of the characters are simply known by a title such as The Client, The Expert, The Brute, and The Lawyer.  This replicates the graphic novel source material for the film.  It also is used as a storytelling structure with chapters introduced by these titles.  There is another classic film called The Killer from 1989 directed by John Woo (the father of Hong Kong action films) and starring Chow Yun-Fat.  That film is full of emotion and giant scenes of slow-motion action set pieces.  It is sheer visual genius.  So is this film, but it is filled with long sequences of just observing the Killer as he prepares himself for what he must accomplish.  There is one set piece that contains a fight of epic proportions, but this is further highlighted by how methodical the rest of the film is.  Every act must be part of a routine and specifically done in a predetermined process.  I believe that Fincher is pulling from the transcendental style of Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu in this approach.  Paul Schrader has written extensively about this style and emulates it in his own films including his recent trilogy.  I put this film in the same level of expertise and experience.  In spite of the slow approach, the tension is heightened considerably, and when the methodical process is broken by the Killer, we experience this in a visceral manner.  Fincher has the perfect partner in the lead role here with Michael Fassbinder.  Like Fincher, Fassbinder has made a career out of pushing himself to physical and emotional extremes.  Here, he balances his monklike silence with an interior monologue with outbursts of violence and quiet wrath. At times, he takes on an archangel of death presence.  He is matched exceptionally in a small but vital role, the Expert, played by Tilda Swinton.  Their encounter reminded me of the diner scene between DeNiro and Pacino in Heat. 

A lovely addition to the film is the exclusive use of songs by the Smiths.  Everytime the Killer prepares for a job he puts on another song and they symbiotically meld with each moment just as the Smiths did with their lyrics, beauty and sadness combined.  It is both a call back to Fincher’s music video origins and a succinct representation of the Killer in musical form.

So, give this film a chance to build as you watch it in the comfort of your own home.  It will leave you thinking and contemplating what you have just experienced, always a sign of a great film.  All that being said, I would kill to see it on the big screen.

As you may have surmised, this is available to stream on Netflix.

Written by: Gareth Jones

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