David Fincher’s latest, The Killer, is based on a French graphic novel, and seems right in Fincher’s normal wheelhouse.
This is the man who directed films like Fight Club, Zodiac, Seven and the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – all cold, slightly callous, with a hard-to-know lead character.
The Killer is not only exactly what it says on the packet, it’s pretty much what it says in the two-word title. Michael Fassbender’s unnamed lead character is an assassin for hire.
You book him, you point at the target, he takes it from there.
This job seems straightforward enough.
Our anti-hero sets up opposite a rich man’s mansion. The target comes home late with a dominatrix sex worker – it’s David Fincher, what do you expect? – and the Killer waits for a clear shot.
But this time something goes wrong. The Killer misses and has to make a quick getaway, with bodyguards and police on his trail - Fincher’s very good at these scenes. He flees to his home in Central America.
By the way, note the little in-jokes in his fake passports. His various names are all characters from old TV sitcoms – Sam Malone, Lou Grant, Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.
Chapter One’s climax is getting home to find his house trashed and his girlfriend badly beaten up.
Someone is going to have to pay, and the rest of the film is devoted to just that.
It’s one of the great movie plots - it’s certainly the most basic. Like John Wick before him, and countless lone avengers before that, the Killer works his way up the ladder of blame.
He takes out the humble taxi-driver who drove the getaway car, various contractors and conspirators, all the time aiming at the final mastermind.
And as the Killer goes further up the food chain, the risks get bigger, the opposition gets more cunning, and the skills required get more complicated.
There’s a great little cameo from Tilda Swinton, essentially reprising her amoral executive character in Michael Clayton.
So, what’s the appeal of a no-good-guys film like this? Well first, there’s always a market for a Lethal Weapon character using increasingly ingenious techniques to get what he needs.
And the Killer is a psychopath. The film is entirely taken from the point of view of someone with no interest in anyone but himself.
Which makes you wonder why he’s so invested in his “female friend”? Was she an anomaly, the one exception that disproves the rule? Or was he simply upset that his private life had been invaded?
We never find out, and I doubt if Fincher is even interested. Like John Wick’s dog, it’s just a way to get started.
The Killer is chilly, it’s brutal, it’s very violent…. director Fincher is a gun for hire in many ways, as he executes a hit with no muss, no fuss and at the end, no sign he was ever there.
One for fans of the perfect crime, in other words.