Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for The Killer.
The Big Picture
- David Fincher’s The Killer is a psychological thriller with a unique focus on the main character’s inner dialogue, providing deep insight into his mindset as an assassin.
- The protagonist seeks revenge after his girlfriend is tortured, leading to a series of meticulously planned and executed assassinations as he hunts down those responsible.
- The film builds tension through unexpected kills and a noirish atmosphere, with the ending revealing a surprising display of humanity from the killer.
David Fincher‘s new psychological thriller The Killer stars Michael Fassbender as an introspective, nihilistic assassin who seeks retaliation after his girlfriend is tortured, leaving her in intensive care in the hospital. After he bungles a job, there is a price on his head in this unexpectedly taut and noirish tale, and as is the case with most David Fincher projects, there are no wasted scenes. As is the case in his previous spellbinding dramas like Se7en, Zodiac, and Gone Girl, each sequence has a specific purpose that moves the story along at a terrifically crisp pace as the killer slowly makes his way up the food chain to find out who put the hit out on him after he failed to carry out his assigned hit in Paris, France at the beginning of the movie. Fassbender’s killer has a meticulous modus operandi and a code that he lives by. This makes the ending of the film a little puzzling as he goes against everything that has driven him up until that point. But for context, let’s establish why his killer is determined to kill and how he goes about it.
The Killer (2023)
After a fateful near-miss, an assassin battles his employers, and himself, on an international manhunt he insists isn’t personal.
- Release Date
- November 10, 2023
- David Fincher
- Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, Monique Ganderton
- 118 minutes
- Action, Adventure, Crime
What is David Fincher’s ‘The Killer’ About?
One thing that is uncharacteristic and different about this particular David Fincher movie is his heavy use of inner dialogue with the main character. Known only as “The Killer,” Fincher does a deep dive into the mind of a fatalistic and Darwinian assassin who has perfectly rationalized his line of work. Fassbender’s baritone inner thoughts dominate the first half of the film and are peppered throughout the second half. He has never captured the stream of consciousness of his titular character like he does in The Killer. And it works. Fassbender’s voice is calm and soothing and also disturbing in its detachment, disillusionment, and brutality. He’s a man who has chosen the life he has, and he is pretty damn good at it. But when he misses his target while on assignment in Paris, it sets off a chain of events that bring out the absolute worst in this killer.
Once back home in the Dominican Republic, he finds that his girlfriend Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) has been tortured by someone who was looking for him because he messed up the hit. From that point forward, our killer is dead set on exterminating anyone and everyone who is involved with the assault. It may seem strange at first, but a part of you starts to commiserate and empathize with Fassbender’s stoic portrayal. Maybe it’s because we are desperately looking for any semblance of a redemptive quality within him. And we love not only The Smiths soundtrack, but also the 70s sitcom character names that Fincher gives The Killer, like Archie Bunker, George Jefferson, Sam Malone, and Oscar Madison.
Who Does the Killer Eliminate Trying to Find the Head Honcho?
Well, several people end up on the wrong side of The Killer’s silencer, so let’s go in chronological order, shall we? After barely escaping Europe by the skin of his teeth, The Killer mistakenly believes that he is out of the woods. He is not. And the spree of retribution and vengeance starts with a poor cab driver who drives the two operatives to his home to ostensibly kill him. This may be the most shocking assassination in the film as it is so sudden and seemingly unnecessary. But, not wanting to leave any loose ends, he blows the driver’s brains all over the windshield and goes on about his mission. Next up is his handler, Eddie Hodges (Charles Parnell) who set up the hit in Paris and sent the contractors after him after he had missed the mark. This poor bastard thinks he’s got the upper hand up until the point where The Killer drives three long nails into his heart, and he slowly bleeds out and dies.
The Killer even terminates his executive assistant, Dolores (Kelly O’Malley) who had little to nothing to do with the hit. But this is where Fincher does some of his best work. When she tells The Killer that she has children and if she dies by accident, they will receive a tidy life insurance settlement. So, and this may sound cold, but we get a tiny glimpse of the humanity in The Killer when he decides to snap her neck and push her down the stairs instead of shooting her. We so badly want to see an inkling of goodness in Fassbender’s performance that closely resembles his turn as the droid David in the Ridley Scott films Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Maybe we are grasping at straws, but The Killer is not “pure” evil, but damn close. And then he turns around and takes out the enormously brutish behemoth of an assassin in a knock-down drag-out brawl in the man’s Florida home. This is not a redemption story, we get it. It should be noted, however, that The Killer only drugs the vicious attack dog instead of killing it. He doesn’t want any part of the John Wick karma that comes with killing a man’s best friend.
The Final Kills of The Killer
Once Fincher takes us to New Orleans, Florida, and then chilly New York, there is a terrifically acted sequence between Fassbender and Tilda Swinton (credited as “The Expert”), who is operating on behalf of the main man. She is the conduit between Hodges and the mystery man The Killer is looking for. She also hired the men who tortured Magdala. From the moment she sees him, she knows she is a dead woman talking, but she puts forth a steely, unfazed demeanor. She orders a drink — actually, several drinks. It’s not that she believes she can talk her way out of her fate, but more that she just wants to die with some dignity and possibly his respect. It’s a very Finchian dynamic that is executed flawlessly by the two brilliant actors. The Killer escorts The Expert out of the swank restaurant, and they walk a short distance into the darkness of night. It’s at this point that he abruptly delivers a single shot between her eyes. And now, all that is left is the money man, the guy who paid the contract for his life. His name is Claybourne, and he is played by the fantastic character actor Arliss Howard.
Naturally, the top man at the very top of the food chain lives in a heavily guarded, swank highrise in Manhattan. After buying an untraceable Glock on the street, The Killer has no issues clandestinely making his way into Claybourne’s sweet Upper East Side spread undetected, as he has cased his target in preparation for the coup de gras following him to the gym and syncing his security via his phone. As he makes his way through the garage of the building, memories of his victim’s last words play in his head. He is finally face to face with the person he believes wronged him and Magdala. Claybourne disarms him in what is the closest thing you’re going to find in a Fincher movie (save Se7en). He pleads his case to The Killer, and it’s a surprisingly good one. He distances himself from the actual brutality and talks about how it was all about the money, and that it is not personal. Will The Killer buy it? He is so disappointed at the ineptness and beta qualities of Claybourne, that he actually lets him live with a warning. What? It turns out that The Killer does have some humanity left in him. The final shots are of The Killer and a fully healed Magdala enjoying beverages under the Dominican Republican sun without a worry in the world.
The Killer is now streaming on Netflix in the U.S.
Watch on Netflix
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