The devil’s in the details: a scathing review of The Killer

By Caitlin MacDonald

David Fincher’s latest endeavour—The Killer—is another drop in Fincher’s bucket of mediocrity.

David Fincher’s newest film, The Killer, is an unfortunate departure from his usual standard of craft. What used to differentiate Fincher from his peers was his range and variety. His catalogue, up until recently, was stellar. No one has the same favourite Fincher movie—not when there are so many great ones to pick from. He started off shakily, as many do, with the not exactly well-received Aliens 3, which was panned by critics and fans alike. His second feature film, Seven, however all but cemented him for stardom. Regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Seven is an airtight thriller with solid performances from its star-studded cast. What followed was an almost legendary run of films: The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl.

Fincher’s second most recent film, the black and white biopic Mank, was certainly disappointing, to say the least. Muddled and too caught up in what it was trying to be rather than what it actually was, Mank was a massive misfire. Fincher’s films all have an element of griminess in them; compared to its kin, Mank is practically clinical in its cleanliness. Part of this can be blamed on the pandemic, with Mank releasing in late November 2020. At the time I watched it, I was ready to write off Mank as Fincher’s only fluke. Everybody has a bad day, after all. It’s okay to not be okay.

It seems, however, David Fincher has lost his way, with The Killer failing on almost every level except for its sound design. Another collaboration between Fincher and Netflix, Michael Fassbender stars as the lead, an assassin who finds himself betrayed by the organisation he works for after a mission goes wrong. A perfect sounding plot for Fincher to find his creative roots in again, with a screenplay written by the same man who wrote Seven. Surely, I thought naively before getting to watch The Killer in its limited cinematic release (thanks for that Netflix), that this would be Fincher’s return to form.

The Killer is, without a doubt, this year’s biggest disappointment, with Fassbender’s performance being one of the main issues with the film. It’s through his perspective and thoughts that the film operates on, with most scenes featuring him alone, as he narrates his thoughts and actions. There is just one problem; Fassbender has all the screen presence of a fishmonger’s counter: dead both inside and out. Not once was his performance even passable. For a big name like Fassbender, it’s a shock to see him so lifeless under the direction of someone like David Fincher. His narration, meticulous and lengthy, as he walks the audience through his process for assassination is both a huge middle finger from Fincher and very annoying after the first 45 minutes of non-stop Fassbender monologuing. The Killer brazenly assumes that its audience is too stupid to follow its very simple plot and instead, decides to hand hold the viewer through the entire film, spooning down repeated mantras of ‘just breathe’ like baby food.

On top of Fassbender’s lacklustre performance is a poorly paced story, with a litany of somewhat interesting characters who don’t get much development other than a title and a plot that has Fassbender jetting from one country to the next, ordering zip ties and padlocks to Amazon pickup lockers. Tilda Swinton’s character, the Expert, is given little personality or anything that would make her anything more than Swinton in a fancy suit and heels, other than the fact she is tall and blonde (‘like a tampon’).

Are two bad films in a row able to discredit an otherwise solid run of films? Not really. But The Killer has all the hallmarks of a certified Fincher banger, especially after the complete tonal shift of Mank, and yet, it falls completely flat. Maybe it’s Netflix’s problem, taking away Fincher’s creative flair and replacing it with that safe, corporate style. But then again, there’s plenty of decent Netflix films (The Irishman and Okja most notably) made by nearly obscure directors which are perfectly passable. It could be Netflix’s fault, sure. But then again, the first Fincher and Netflix collaboration resulted in the widely successful Mindhunter television series. It’s likely that Fincher has burnt out completely. Gone is the Seven, Gone Girl and Fight Club magic, that special Fincher touch. I’ll keep my eye out if Fincher releases another feature, out of morbid curiousity to see if this streak continues. You know what they say; three strikes and you’re out, David.The Killer releases on Netflix on November 10th.


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