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The Killer review: "David Fincher's assassin drama hits the mark"

 Michael Fassbender in The Killer
Michael Fassbender in The Killer

The assassin at the heart of David Fincher’s latest operates on a lean, clean MO similar to the filmmaker: precision, perfection, and a banging playlist. Based on the graphic novels by Matz and Luc Jacamon, and sharing DNA with Fight Club (nihilist, lacuna antagonist, materialist contempt) and Bullet Train (same hat, similar hitman problem), The Killer follows Michael Fassbender’s monastic freelancer as he explains his craft while prepping for a job in Paris. Holed up in a vacant ‘WeWork’ office, the unnamed agent of death does yoga, naps, grabs a McDonald's, and listens to The Smiths while cataloguing the discipline required to successfully off a mark and melt back into a city. The rules are simple: stick to the plan. Anticipate, don’t improvise. Trust no one. Yield no advantage. Forbid empathy. Oh, and dress like a German tourist.

Though he kills creatively (a slick title sequence with a thrumming Reznor/Ross score gives us snakes, pills, and knives as options, and our man bemoans not being able to recall his last "nice quiet drowning"), the killer is training his rifle crosshairs on some fat cat across the street. All he needs is a heart rate below 60 and gentle trigger squeeze to fulfil his contract. But when the straightforward gig goes south, the hitman’s practised regime is compromised, and he finds himself hunted and breaking his own rules in a globetrotting retribution mission.

Michael Fassbender in The Killer
Michael Fassbender in The Killer

The premise of contract murderers making something personal isn’t new, but Fincher is having fun with the genre – loading needle-drops, pop-culture hat-tips (Antiques Roadshow, Storage Wars, aliases that are all TV characters), and Bondian ingenuity into a propulsive pace. Split into seven chapters which play out in different cities around the world, the action may be serious but the gags are plentiful – whether that’s Tilda Swinton (essentially playing herself as an assassin) telling a bear joke, a close-to-the-bone comment about a wheelie bin, or the comedic appearance of a parmesan grater during a terrific house brawl. And the pragmatic approach to death required for the job is lightly handled. Fassbender talks of mortality statistics and refers to body disposal in carpentry terms; those in the business understand, without undue fuss, that their last few minutes are up when he appears in their life.

That’s not to say Fassbender isn’t brutal. Dressed in his nondescript tourist-chic beiges and driving his pedestrian hire cars, he may fade into crowds with plasticity but he’s a lethal weapon – no hesitation, no mercy. He dispatches loose ends with nail guns, stair falls, backseat executions; allowing his victims to talk at him while he listens, unmoved. Though he speaks rarely in interactions, Fassbender’s chat track is the main draw here – the internal monologue of an agnostic man who assures us from the start that luck and justice are not real. Moving and scarfing protein like a predator (a nice character detail as he deconstructs McMuffins and inhales hard-boiled eggs while driving), he offers no real context to his job. No backstory except the hint of legal academia, no data for his ‘real’ life aside from an injured woman. His very blankness allows us to project meaning onto him and gives one of the filmmaker’s more commercial movies a layer of added nuance. And if you ever wondered what Fincher’s Bond might have looked like, this could be it.

The Killer is out November 10 on Netflix and in select UK cinemas.