John Wick’s only real personality trait is being mad about dog homicide. That is one more personality trait than exhibited by The Killer (Michael Fassbender) in The Killer. If the Calm app became a hitman, it would likely resemble the mantra-spewing, mindfulness-loving murderer at the heart of director David Fincher’s latest neo-noir joint.
Watching the even-keeled executioner dispassionately dispatch death is oddly hypnotic, thanks in no small part to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s mesmerizing music. It is also abjectly pointless, wholly unoriginal, and potentially upsetting if you Google what Fassbender was (allegedly) up to around the point at which he got famous.
The Killer isn’t plot heavy. In fact, its plot is on mega-Ozempic. Despite doing yoga real good while providing a voiceover that describes the perfect target heart rate for shooting someone in the head, our nameless central character botches an assassination attempt. He flees to his hideout, only to find that other killers were sent to kill The Killer for his failure to correctly kill. The Killer then attempts to kill the other killers and kill the person who sent the other killers to kill The Killer. Most of the characters aren’t given names, but one of them is played by Tilda Swinton. So that’s nice.
As stylish as expected, only two scenes in The Killer are truly remarkable. A fight featuring a Floridian hunk of man meat referred to as “The Brute” (Sala Baker) is a wickedly violent delight. Poorly lit but in a way that’s both intentional and readable, the two murderers tussle through walls and glass, wielding a truckload of Pottery Barn knickknacks with horrifying malice. Scintillating in a wholly different way, a melancholy conversation with “The Expert” (Swinton) is dryly droll. Fassbender maybe speaks once or twice. If you have an option of who should speak and Tilda Swinton is a choice, you pick Tilda Swinton.
Again, and this cannot be understated, the movie has no purpose. It is the umpteen millionth pensive hitman movie. It is the eleventy billionth brooding urban crime thriller. It is the thousandy gazillionth revenge opus. It may be one of the only revengers to suggest that payback is not only outright possible but fairly satisfying. If you stick to your plan.
That’s part of The Killer’s oft-repeated self-encouragement. “Anticipate, don’t improvise,” he says ad-nauseum. And there is a good degree of nauseum involved. Because everything dude thinks to himself is a therapy-babble cliché. The titular character has no character. The series of events is elegantly hackneyed. The whole thing feels like what you’d get if you asked AI to make a David Fincher hitman movie. It is oddly soulless and purposefully nondescript.
It goes down easy, to be sure. Fincher and company don’t belabor or bore. And since it is a Netflix original only briefly poking its head into theaters, maybe it will go down even easier on home theaters? What it isn’t is a memorable entry on the lauded director’s filmography. But since his last entry was Mank, maybe he’s still trending the right direction?
Grade = B-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Wenlei Ma of PerthNow says “It imprisons you in the mind of an amoral assassin and lulls you into believing the ethics of murder is neither here nor there, all that matters is effectiveness.”
Travis Hopson at Punch Drunk Critics says “The combo of Fincher, Fassbender, and a revenge arc is too good for The Killer to be an outright terrible movie. It’s definitely not. But when it’s over you can’t escape the feeling that it had the potential to be amazing, and instead, it just misses the target.”
Kelechi Ehenulo at Confessions From a Geek Mind says “But the film’s most memorable feature comes in its sound design. As expected from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Fincher’s regular collaborators since The Social Network), the score is deliberately jarring. Mixing their traditional synth notes with The Smiths, the best way is to describe it as an audio dissonance where the sound intentionally dips in/out depending on how the hitman is listening to music.”