THE KILLER (2023) – Review
I’ve had them and I’m sure you’ve had them. Lousy days at work will happen at some point and many times it’s our fault. We’ve “scrooched the pooch” as they say, made an error, perhaps a miscalculation or even an uncrossed”t”. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, we could get fired or perhaps suspended or given a “stern warning” maybe along with a verbal “dressing down”. Yes, that’s with most regular jobs, but what if your profession is life or death? But more toward the latter if you’re a “murder merchant”, or a “gun for hire”. That’s at the heart of a new thriller from one of the most inventive filmmakers of the last few decades. He gives us a look at a “very bad, no-good day”, leading to several wretched weeks in the life of THE KILLER.
After a sprightly credit sequence highlighting the “tools of his trade”, we meet a highly-paid professional hitman (Michael Fassbender), whose real name is a mystery to us (and probably to many of his “hires”). His latest gig is in Paris (nice) but most of his time is spent waiting…and waiting in an “under-renovation” office space in a building across from a swanky hotel. The days pass so very slowly until his “target” finally arrives. The victim is in the sites of his top-of-the-line rifle, the trigger is pulled, and things “go sideways”. The hitman makes a mad dash into the Paris streets to the airport. There’s a heated cell phone exchange in which his “agent” says he’ll try to “make things right” with”the client”. After a stopover in Florida, “the killer” makes his way to his secluded estate in the Dominican Republic, arriving moments after some person or persons trashed the place, leaving someone near death. It’s then that the hitman becomes a detective, zeroing in on the “invaders”, as he “burns his bridges’ to exact his revenge. Can he find those responsible before he becomes a target? And can he ever really leave his past, and “the life” behind him?
The lead role provides a superb showcase for Fassbender, one of the screen’s most engaging actors. The title character doesn’t have many spoken lines directed at others, but his “stream of consciousness” narration not only guides us in his planning and preparation but offers terrific reflections, often very funny, on humanity in general. While making his way around the globe (literally)Fassbender does his best to be unnoticeable (with awkward hats swallowing his face) which gives his full “reveals’ a greater impact as his piercing glare bores into the sole of those in his gaze. Ths film’s other “big name” is probably Tilda Swinton as The Expert” who falls into The Killer’s vision. For a time she believes her air of refined elegance will charm him until we see her accept her “fate” with a resigned dignity. That’s unlike her partner, Sala Baker as “The Brute”, who proves to be the savage destructive force that may thwart The Killer’s quest. Charles Parnell is terrific as Hodges, “The Lawyer”, who truly believes that his logical arguments will force The Killer to spare him and come back into “the fold”. Ditto for Arliss Howard as the befuddled Claybourne AKA “The Client”, who realizes that his greed has led him to his probable doom. There’s also strong supporting work from Kerry O’Malley as the fluttery aide to Hodges and Gabriel Polanco as the “caught in the crosshairs” cabbie.
For director David Fincher, this film marks a return to his roster of stylized thrillers begun almost thirty years ago with SE7EN, after his most recent biopic MANK. But unlike those earlier films, this tale is “stripped down” to present a taut thriller via his frequent collaborator Andrew Kevin Walker’s adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel by Alexis Nolent and Luc Jacamon. Fincher’s “rat-a-tat” use of quick editing (foreshadowed in the splendid opening titles enhanced with 60s retro graphics) immediately pulls us in. It even makes the lengthy “stakeouts” full of foreboding menace. The excellent location shooting gives us a peek into the title character’s skills in any setting from the tropics to the chill of Chicago. All of this is ably accented by the rich score by other Fincher “regulars” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Yes, the tension level is high, but there are great dollops of dark humor throughout (loved the roster of phony, but familiar aliases). This should stand alongside the great hitman thrillers like THE MECHANIC and DAY OF THE JACKAL, while also giving a nod to Soderbergh’s HAYWIRE. Fans of flashy crime capers, and especially Fassbender, should set their sites on THE KILLER.
3 out of 4
THE KILLER is now playing in select theatres