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The Killer: A boring triumph by David Fincher

The Netflix release is a meticulous work of ennui

David Fincher knows that you have your phone in your hand when you have Netflix on the TV. He doesn’t care. 

Fincher’s 12th feature film The Killer (2023) was released on Netflix on Friday, Nov. 10 after a limited release in movie theatres.

The Killer stars Michael Fassbender as the titular character, an assassin for hire whose reputation precedes him. 

Parallels 

The Killer opens with a 20-minute sequence where the killer meticulously prepares for an upcoming kill. Largely through voiceover, the killer explains the minutiae of his technique, which is rife with idiosyncrasies and frustratingly tedious. Yoga, The Smiths, low-carb McDonalds breakfast.

The opening scene quickly reveals that the killer is a stand-in for Fincher. Detail and forethought are inextricable from Fincher’s reputation. The myth of Fincher is informed by his infamous and unforgiving work ethic. The way he blocks, lights and composes his scenes mirrors the killer’s attempts to control every aspect of his own pursuits. 

They both literally spend days (months? years?) preparing their shots.

Adaptation

It was announced in 2007 that Fincher would adapt the graphic novel by Matz and artist Luc Jacamon. 

Andrew Kevin Walker, teaming up with Fincher for the first time since Seven in 1995, wrote the script for The Killer at the request of Fincher. According to the pair, Fincher provided direction for the writing process, including limiting the dialogue spoken by the killer. Fincher has never had a writing credit on a film he directed, but his touch can always be detected in every aspect of his product, including the screenplay.

Intentional bleakness

The punchline of the opening scene comes when, after convincing the audience of his mastery, the killer fumbles the kill by shooting the wrong target. The fumble sets off the chain of events that fill the rest of the runtime.

The killer goes on a rampage that, for a moment, feels like it will be a John Wickian balancing of the scales. 

It’s not that, however. And the abject lack of excitement that follows (give or take one fight scene in Florida) couldn’t position this movie further from the action-packed cinema some might have expected.

The bleakness of the film matches the bleakness of the life the killer discovers himself living. When Tilda Swinton shows up (briefly) as The Expert, she recounts a story about a hunter and a bear. After repeatedly failing to kill the bear, the bear asks the hunter, “You’re not really out here for the hunting, are you?” The target asks the killer “You’re not really out here for the killing, are you?” The filmmaker asks himself… something.

To some, the boring, self-examining nature of the film might make it a self-indulgent failure. But the frustrating plotlessness of the movie is intentional. 

“If you are unable to endure boredom, this work is not for you,” says the killer during his opening narration. 

The monotony is on purpose. The lack of action is the juice.

Fincher knew that people would, for the most part, watch this movie at home. Forget competing with other screens at the theatre, Fincher knew he’d be competing with the laptop and cell phone screens of Netflix users who just so happened to click play on The Killer. So, he used Netflix’s money to make a boring movie about putting everything he has into a single pursuit and questioning whether any of it is worth it.

The Killer is a hilariously bold entry into Fincher’s filmography. In a year when directors such as Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Michael Mann will release big and loud masterworks, it seems that The Killer will fly under the radar. 

This movie’s failure to resonate with the masses is an unfortunate inevitability that, in a way, validates the entire project.

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