Not everyone realizes the sense of humor that David Fincher has. Even his bleakest of works usually has some black comedy in it. With The Killer, Fincher has embraced that more than ever before. I’d posit that this might be his most humorous work to date. It’s gallows humor, to be sure, but this is an incredibly funny film. Now, it’s dark and violent as well, hallmarks of his career, but there’s a tongue in cheek quality as well. The movie manages to have its cake and eat it too, in that way. Playing as my final title at the New York Film Festival, the flick immediately becomes one of my favorites, not just of the fest, but of the year so far.
The Killer is savage as it is savagely funny. Once the narrative clicks in and you see what Fincher is up to, it becomes even funnier. That being said, you have to be on the film’s wavelength and vibe with what it’s doing, but once you do, it’s highly amusing. By working this sort of mood within over genre fare, Fincher has made one of his most entertaining movies, as well as one of the best new thrillers in some time. Between this, Hit Man (also phenomenal and a future excellent double feature on Netflix), as well as Knox Goes Away, it’s the year of the assassin on screen.
The Killer (Michael Fassbender) enters our lives while waiting for his next target. Sitting in the shadows of a neighboring building, he narrates to us about his lack of scruples, as well as what makes one good at this job. He narrates and waits, narrates and waits. It’s clearly taking longer than usual, and while we learn his routine, you get the sense that something might be off. Then, when it comes time to take out the target, something goes wrong. That’s never happened before, and it clearly throws him off.
The consequences are swift and fierce, despite his best attempts at mitigating that. However, that also has the killer go off on a new mission, one he claims isn’t personal, but has him going after those who came after him. As he encounters people like his boss Hodges (Charles Parnell), a fellow member of the craft (Tilda Swinton), and his initial client (Arliss Howard), you also wonder if he’s also losing it. Through it all, you get to see the unique way that the man goes about his unique job, and that’s a devilish pleasure.
A man solitary and cold, methodical and unencumbered by scruples or regrets, the killer waits in the shadows, watching for his next target. And yet the longer he waits, the more he thinks he’s losing his mind, if not his cool. A brutal, bloody and stylish noir story of a professional assassin lost in a world without a moral compass, this is a case study of a man alone, armed to the teeth and slowly losing his mind.
Michael Fassbender hasn’t had this good of a role in a while. He’s a perfect choice for the cool and stoic killer, especially when he has to lose his cool and scramble for solutions. The improvisational aspect of the character is something Fassbender leans into well. He’s having as good of a time as Fincher is here. He’s on screen in nearly every frame and no one else has too much to do, but the aforementioned Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, and especially Tilda Swinton make the most of their limited time on screen. Supporting players also include Sala Baker, Kerry O’Malley, Gabriel Polanco, and more.
David Fincher reunites with scribe Andrew Kevin Walker for a fiendishly entertaining delight here. They are having a blast, whether it’s with the alter ego’s their protagonist uses while traveling, or in some of the modern amenities of life he utilizes in taking out a target. You’ll never look at sitcom characters or Amazon drop-off boxes the same way again. Walker’s screenplay is clever, to be sure, but directed by Fincher, it just sings. As you might expect, it’s lean and mean work, technically impeccable on every level. From the editing by Kirk Baxter to the cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt, all the way to the brooding score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, it all sucks you in.
The Killer is so much more fun than you’re expecting. Now, you probably have to be on board with how twisted it is, but the NYFF audience I saw it with was howling. This is a fantastically enjoyable thriller, made with Fincher’s trademark care. It’s a 2023 highlight overall and a must see. Don’t you dare miss it!