There has been much said about the art of filmmaking and how it has evolved over the decades and one of its contemporary premium purveyors is David Fincher, whose unwavering attention to his craft has been met with choruses of praise and some of exhaustion. For Fincher, who started working on music videos before his big break with 1992’s ill-fated Alien 3, his art form is his life, soul, blood, sweat, and tears, and his meticulous attention to detail and careful crafting of every scene is legendary. Still, sometimes such obsessions can lead to problems. Just look at how Michael Cimino failed spectacularly with such an ethos with Heaven’s Gate: it almost closed the gates of United Artists in 1980, went 400% over budget, and saw the era of the auteur shudder to a halt, with the studios taking control.
Fincher, though, is built differently from Cimino or any other director as his techniques, compositions, editing, music, and shots are designed to be perfect, even if it means fifty takes. He is truly unique, as are his films, and The Killer, his latest collaboration with Netflix after 2020’s Mank, is very much a film designed for the filmmaker. In fact, it’s easy to see the appeal of not only adapting a brilliant comic book to the screen with his customary artistry, but the story of a precise, confident, unwavering hitman also echoes much of his directorial prowess and power, as well as the effects – and pressures – of a miss, rather than a hit, in the world of filmmaking as a whole.
Beginning in an empty, dilapidated Parisian building that shows the final resting place of a WeWork office, it begins intriguingly enough: Fassbender, with quiet, forceful authority, narrates his character’s techniques and tricks that make him the best in the business as he waits, patiently, before his target finally emerges and he clicks into gear almost like The Terminator as, without hesitation or pause, he assembles his weapon and begins his countdown. However, he misses for the first time and thus sets off a chain reaction that sees his secrets begin to bleed into his life outside of work. The hunter becomes the hunted until The Killer decides to take matters into his own hands.
But once the bullet lands in the wrong place, the film switches gear into a somewhat sub-par revenge thriller that, for all its artistic merits and Fincher’s usual panache, starts to unravel. Slowly, we get into “seen it all before” territory, re-treading similar paths from others in the genre so, for all its brilliance, nothing feels particularly original or inspiring. It’s impossible to say the film is bad, mind you: it looks phenomenal and Fassbender’s dynamic central turn showcases his exemplary talents that have been sorely missing from screens in recent years, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again prove brilliant foils for Fincher and Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography (the two reuniting after Mank). And yet, something feels missing. It lacks a magic, bullet-like spark like that when a bullet gets fired, to really make it stand out amongst its numerous counterparts with Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay becoming rote and one-dimensional. While we know the destination, the journey to get there still feels somewhat tiresome and, strangely, uninspired.
2023 | Netflix | Thriller | In select cinemas October 27th, on Netflix November 10th | Dir: David Fincher | Michael Fassbender, Charles Parnell, Tilda Swinton, Arliss Howard, Sophie Charlotte