David Fincher's The Killer answers the age-old question regarding how skilled assassins travel from one place to another (a lot of fake ID cards are involved). This might be the most satisfying thing the film manages to offer to the audience. The titular character (referred to as The Killer in the end credits), played by Michael Fassbender, informs us how boring the life of a professional assassin can be during the opening moments. He talks to himself about the earth's population and how one needs a lot of patience in his profession. He even quotes Popeye the Sailor Man. In the film's opening scene, the killer imperturbably waits for the arrival of his target. In the meantime, he uses his scope to keep an eye on the people walking down the streets and those living in the building opposite his temporary residence.
His behavior seems similar to that of James Stewart's character from Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. In that 1954 film, physical injury kept the Stewart character in his apartment. In this new Fincher film, the Fassbender character stays in his room because of his profession. Finally, when the target comes to his room, the killer aims his gun at him, pulls the trigger, and...misses. This, apparently, is the first time something like this has happened with this assassin. Anyway, he goes to one of his hideout homes only to find that someone has broken into the house and attacked his girlfriend, Magdala (Sophie Charlotte). Harm anyone close to a trained killer, and you will suffer serious consequences. This is Action Movie Trivia 101.
Fassbender's face is chillingly cold and calm here. If eyes are the windows to the soul, then his window is tightly closed. We know his character can feel as well as give warmth because he has a girlfriend. But how did he get into a relationship with her? What did Magdala find so appealing about the killer? Was she impressed by his Popeye the Sailor Man quotes? It's hard to digest the killer as a romantic person. As a result, his romantic bond feels unconvincing. It simply looks like a springboard that throws the story in a particular direction. The killer might be unbelievable as a lover, but that's what precisely makes him so convincing as a...killer. You trust him when he refuses to show empathy towards his victims. The skin on Fassbender's face seems directly stuck to his bone. There are no facial muscles, which is why the killer never smiles and wears the same uncheerful expression.
All this makes Fassbender's character naturally unpredictable. You never know when he will fire his gun. You are as much in the dark as the victims. This is why the most shocking moments in the film are the ones where the killer shoots his targets. It feels as if Fincher has taken tonal cues from the killer's cold expressions to make a movie that is equally cold and distant. This, though, is not a compliment. We are so uninvolved with the film that we start asking ourselves questions related to the killer's past and present. How did he become an assassin? What is the hierarchical structure like in his organization? Does the organization have multiple branches? Here is a man who uses so many aliases that you can't help but wonder if he remembers his real name or not. I guess we are not supposed to ask these questions, but what else can we do when the events on the screen feel so impersonal?
In The Killer, Fincher fails to produce a single memorable, suspenseful sequence. The movie comes across as static, even during moments of violence. The scene where the killer quietly enters a house after tossing a pill toward a dog is so inert it looks like a cinematic equivalent of a dead person. The fight scene inside this house, too, is lacking in vigor. The energy slowly increases when the dog runs after the killer, but the scene immediately ends, and that tiny bit of excitement is instantly dissolved. The killer easily disguises himself as a sanitation worker, and when - with a corpse - he is placed among innocent civilians in an elevator, the movie suggests that the man next to you in a public place can be a deadly assassin. But this uneasy intention is diluted with a joke where a man asks if he can help dispose of the corpse. The line is too clever for its own good. It fails to even serve as good, dark humor. The only funny moment in the film is the one where the killer fails to steal a key from the janitor.
You can see Fincher as the assassin and the movie as his victim. The director sucks the life out of this material. The Killer leaves you with a feeling that you have watched something utterly unremarkable. No wonder Fincher was surprised by the standing ovation he received during the Venice Film Festival.
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