“He knows so much about these things”
The Killer (Netflix) is divided into Five Chapters with an Epilogue. With the source material being Le Teuer, a French comic book by Matz and Luc Jacamon, it seems most fitting. We are immediately given the title credits. It’s been a veritable dog’s age since last I’d seen a movie without a cold open or the title at the very end, so this was a total breath of fresh air. They’re reminiscent of a video game, as they slink past like Roman shades as flashes of The Killer’s method of erasing others as well as himself complement the icy synths of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross seep into the airspace before we report to The Killer’s first job of the movie.
His cool, calm, and collected inner musings are the first words to hit our Eustachian tubes. Hope you like voiceovers because outside of his direct actions and his playlist, this will be our only way of getting to know The Killer. Yes, the narration device of voiceover or V.O. in movies and television in years past had been shunned and vilified in the world of professional screenwriting. As a scriptwriter, I was taught to stay away from it when possible, but also to embrace it if it’s truly called for. Now, this is a David Fincher joint; you know this ain’t his first rodeo with the device. He plays in it as Johnny Marr would play in harmonics, so I’m all in. This Killer’s voice exudes equal parts detachment and bonhomie. He’s addressing us directly, but at times he’s just amusing himself and it’s feeling like a fucking back massage to experience.
“But I haven’t got a stitch to wear”
We kick it off in Paris. Amid the piercingly gorgeous rococo architecture, The Killer (Michael Fassbender) awaits The Target (Endre Hules) in an almost monastic fashion, like a hunter in a perch, setting the film’s pace. We wait with the protagonist because we have to. We never take our eyes off of him, not for a second. We follow his every movement. From his stretching regimen to his routine naps in order to stay vigilant to his bromides and insights, our sights are set on him as he prepares for The Target. Could we be the hunter as well? I mean it definitely feels as if we’re almost watching a nature documentary.
Donning some really nice, brightly colored digs, complete with a bucket hat, The Killer doesn’t look like any assassin I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t possess the trench, beanie, and tea shades of Leon (though we do see him nap in sunglasses later). I suppose I’ve seen a similar “German tourist” look in the Hitman franchise, because for both Agent 47 and this guy, it’s not a uniform, it’s camouflage. My guy doesn’t need a damn tactical suit like John Wick because the methodology behind his look is tactical to a floral button-down tee, which is pretty rad because it makes the most sense. In his words, “…at least avoid being memorable.”
It’s been five days. I like this a lot. It forces us to have patience with The Killer, to take a seat and pull up an ear for more of him waxing philosophically. With a movie title like The Killer, we’re expecting guns, grit, and gasoline because that’s what we were fucking fed for the last few years! What we if took a breath, put on some Smiths, and let the reward come to us, as a successful hunt should be.
“I know, I know, it’s really serious”
In sniping, nothing is left to chance. Everything must be precise. However, statistics only get you so far. You can’t account for every single thing, you can only plan for it. Even then, nobody’s perfect. Suffice it to say, The Killer flubbed this shit. He flubbed it but good. Now, he did specify that he wasn’t a big fan of long-distance shit. If we remember anything from Leon: The Professional, sniper rifles are for novices. The fact that this motherfucker is most at home with the most intimate of killings in creatively staged accidents is ball-retracting chilling.
We don’t know this guy’s backstory, only their worldview and just now the shit show that’s landed on their doorstep. It’s a smart move because we don’t need much. If we’re in The Killer’s mind, his disquietude becomes ours, with his Cobra-like reflexes in self-erasure from a crime scene being just as entrancing as the location he’s in. It’s like watching a flower bloom before your very eyes, which makes the floral shirt so much more apt.
He’s now batting nine hundred and I’m finding myself stressing with him. Fassbender has a talent for showing ever-so-subtle cracks in this guy’s steely-eyed composure, especially when his boss is freaking the fuck out. His anticipatory instincts serve him well to change the flight last minute, but this is all about taking Mr. Perfect out of his comfort zone. This comes in the form of collateral damage in our second act.
“My only weakness is a list of crime”
Even when confronted with the rippling effect of an incomplete task, in this case, goons breaking into his hideout in the Dominican Republic, sexually assaulting his romantic partner Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) for info she never gives up, The Killer’s voice only grows icier in its resolve. Still, his soothing tone flies in the face of his actions, with the cadence of someone recording a memoir as he tags, tails, and hurts methodically all the way to the top, starting with his first “improvised” kill of a livery driver before heading to his former academic mentor and current employer, The Lawyer (Charles Parnell) and his secretary Dolores (Kerry O’Malley) in New Orleans before we get to Magdala’s assailant, The Brute (Sala Baker) in Florida. When I say this is a fight for the ages, it truly is.
It’s David and Goliath Disparity type shit and I’m all here for it. Shit, The Killer’s been talking our ears off for the last hour and a half, I would now like to see how his calisthenics pay off. You have size vs. speed and thanks to the beautifully choreographed stunt work, it plays out like a brilliant ballet of brutality in which everything not tied down is used to buy just a fraction of an adrenaline-drenched second. So much for “not improvising.” The fight looked damn good as if it were shot through the lens of an eu de toilette commercial, making it truly a set piece and a half. Give the Fassbender, Baker, stunt people, production designers, prop department, and sound designers their fucking roses.
“Please keep me in mind”
Many times, characters with “certain skill sets,” as dope as they may be at first, are poorly written because in all cases, they mainly have the upper hand which is fucking boring. They operate with the elegance of a basic directional pad in their thoughts and actions because their black-and-white autonomy isn’t being tested enough. In this case, you take a star and make him doubt himself. It’s subtle, but therein lies what makes Fassbender’s assassin so memorable.
True, from old TV sitcom aliases to vast amounts of coin to storage units as makeshift safe houses complete with “to-go” kits, The Killer is never ridden hard and put up wet the way John Wick was. He’s not ‘inherited a problem’ like Leon. I don’t want to bring it back to Fight Club, but The Killer’s only true enemy is himself, which is fabulous because you can never outrun your shadow, just wait for it to go to sleep.
The Killer isn’t some demon stirred so rudely from his ancient slumber. He’s simply a skilled practitioner in a highly exclusive service, enjoying what he does, or at the very least, not running away from it. He’s like Jay Leno in that he’s touched much of his “Tonight Show money.” I believe that he at least likes what he does. He’s in his prime, and his method for getting in and getting out is so beautiful to watch because it’s just as uncomplicated and single-serving as his personality. That being said, I like that as cool and compartmentalized as the man typically is, the external entropy and internal chaos as a direct result of his own actions hem and haw at this very crucial edge, making him even more engaging as the movie progresses.
“So drink, drink drink”
It’s only when we hit the third act that the momentum itself takes a bit of a nap as well. The Killer arrives in New York to meet with The Expert (Tilda Swinton). He’s not there for the cuisine or vintage whiskey drams. He’s there to listen. So am I. I could listen to Tilda all day, however, but I’ve seen enough of this lately to be kind of tired of it; a prestige actor in a high-positioned role that runs the potential risk of being just a fancy Pez dispenser for cheap exposition. I ain’t mad at it though because she does to The Killer exactly what the killer does to us by spoon-feeding him a bit of food for thought through humor. However, she did it with a grizzly bear joke as philosophical as it is comical.
Finally, it’s off to Chicago. With the voices of those hurt or killed as a result of his actions serving as a new mantra, The Killer slithers his way to The Client (Arliss Howard) in a way that sheer pleasure to witness. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it can’t buy you peace of mind and The Client filling in the missing pieces of the blood-soaked puzzle does little to assuage The Killer, but he does get to suck air for another day. Are those the floral notes of empathy I sense?
“Driving in your car, I never ever want to go home”
I’ll keep it a stack. My initial disappointment in the movie was the usage of the soundtrack. I’m not familiar with the source material, but neither was I the first time I watched Fight Club. I don’t know how much killing actually goes on in the comic book itself, but I was anticipating full-fledged vignettes for each kill, nearly full-length Smiths songs, each a sonic reflection of the creative dispatching… until it was brought to my attention in the opening credits this was scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. By the beginning of the end credits with the melodic rattle of Marr’s acoustic guitar and militant jangle of Rourke’s bass on “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” everything fucking made sense to me. The Killer is sad. His line of work is fucking grisly. Death is his business. As a Smiths fan 20 years strong, happy as they sound, you don’t listen to them in hopes it’s going to be a good day. The Smiths. Sad music for sad people.
Having watched it twice for this review, I realized that just a hair above two hours (yes!) the shit’s just a solid work of art, through and through. It’s like a big hunk of Brazilian cherry wood that’s been hewn, sanded, treated, and conditioned to make a one-of-a-kind centerpiece that stands out a mile away for its audacity, elegance, and odd, alien familiarity. This movie is elevated in its simplicity. It’s lush in its pin-drop moments as well as its blood-soaked ones. The Killer’s taciturn wit serves as the intoxicating elixir, an assurance to himself as well as us that everything’s going to be alright. Each frame of this movie I could fucking hang on my wall. David Fincher once again enlists Academy Award-winning Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (Mank) for a film I can only hope gets made into an art book at some point. The adapted screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) has some serious heat on it. It’s lean, slick, and packs a wallop. I think it goes without saying that Fassbender should absolutely be on the list of Oscar nominees.
It truly was the rewatch for me that cinched it. Something I didn’t catch the first time. The ending credits song is “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” It’s a very jangly, jaunty joint with funerary lyrics through a sardonic wit. This is precisely what the killer sounds like when he speaks to us. The song, despite poetically waxing of despair, shyness, and dread, there exists no hint of aloofness, despite the lyrics “If a ten-ton truck, kills the. both of us/ To die by your side/Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine.” The songs are ultimately about hope.
A light that never goes out represents a house that’s always open, a place that’s always welcoming. In the tune, Morrissey pleads with his driver to take him “anywhere” because (like the transient Killer), he doesn’t really have a home. Though Morrissey also follows that up with “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care,” he really does. So does The Killer, ultimately breaking his cardinal rule of actually “giving a fuck.”
Give Mr. Fincher his gladioli.