The Killer Sees David Fincher at His Funniest as He Delivers a Violent Satire

David Fincher’s darkly comic hitman film The Killer can almost be read as an apologia for everyone who had to suffer through other people not understanding Fight Club was a satire and not a guidebook for men feeling late capitalist anomie. Fincher’s script is telegraphing in capital letters that the titular killer (Michael Fassbender) is a self-aggrandising hypocrite whose unending stream of internal babble is him trying to convince himself (and by extension the audience) that he has some worth. Working once more with Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker adapting the graphic novels of Alexis ‘Matz’ Nolent illustrated by Luc Jacamon, Fincher isn’t pretending he’s giving us an anti-hero – he’s presenting us with a clown.

An extraordinary title sequence reminiscent of Se7en gives us some idea of The Killer’s past work. Frozen babies, cut up corpses, drownings, garrottings, flesh presented as grist for the killer’s mill. There’s carnage on display and it’s ugly. However, if you go from the sequence expecting Se7en you’ll be disappointed. There are some grisly murders but there is no manipulative intelligence behind them, just a man going scorched earth because he made a mistake.

The film begins with The Killer giving the audience an insight to his work. He’s a high priced assassin – in his own reckoning an elite in his field. He takes us through his mind-numbingly dull routine “If you’re unable to endure boredom, this work is not for you,” he tells us as he sits waiting in an abandoned WeWork office in Paris. The Killer relates his philosophy, or philosophies with the expression of a human spreadsheet serving up statistics and mixing them with Darwin, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, Sun Tzu, nihilism and whatever else he can pull together to justify what he is doing. We watch him do yoga, eat McDonalds, check his Fitbit, and watch people through his rifle scope. People are like ants to him, curious specimens he’s observing going about their lives. Our modern day Mersault sleeps on a desk, hides dressed a German tourist, bemoans sleep deprivation, and will not shut up with his stream of consciousness bullshit. His mantra, oft repeated, is, “Stick to the plan. Anticipate, don’t improvise. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight. Trust no one. This is what it takes, if you want to succeed.” Of course, it makes sense for a person in his position, but then he couples it with something akin to telling us he is not exceptional (he clearly thinks he is) he is just “apart.” He’s not a genius, he’s just not one of the many.

The audience follows along with the monologues until we witness his first on screen kill is actually a mistake. After bemoaning how much he dislikes distance work (shooting anonymously) and how he prefers close up work (“When was the last time I got to do a good drowning?”) his agonisingly organised plan goes to shit as he misses his target. So much for the cool professional. From this moment on the Killer knows he is a target and must hide out from the people who contracted him. He returns to his home in the Dominican Republic (side note, every alias he uses is the name of a famous sitcom character) to find that his girlfriend has been attacked. This gives him the justification to mount a revenge spree. However, as the film goes on it becomes clear that he’s not so much revenging her but covering up his error. “I’ll make sure this will never happen again,” he says not so much as a comfort to the collateral damage of his enterprise, but as a promise to himself.

From the Dominican Republic the next stop is New Orleans (he has opinions on every city he visits) and finding out who the two other operatives were that entered his home. Dispatching The Lawyer (Charles Parnell) with a mixture of power tools and office supplies he then gets the necessary information from Dolores (Kerry O’Malley) the secretary. The Killer is organised, he has a storage shed in most major cities (a canny joke about ‘Storage Wars’ works beautifully). You see he has the resources to go anywhere in the world – disappear completely, but that isn’t what he wants to do. He wants to drive around playing The Smiths (delicious) and ensure he gets his power back.

We move from New Orleans to Florida for a primitive fight scene between himself and The Brute (Sala Baker) one of the associates who was in the Dominican Republic. The Killer’s opinion of Florida and its inhabitants is hilarious. We then move to just outside New York where he takes on The Expert (Tilda Swinton).

The Killer’s interaction with The Expert is perhaps the most telling of all. He wonders why she would choose to live amongst the “normies” in a well-appointed suburban home. Over a dinner where The Expert realises its her last supper and gets progressively drunk, she asks “Why come out into the open?” There is indeed a myriad of ways The Killer could have dispatched her, so why face to face? It isn’t because he particularly wants to see the light go out of her eyes when she dies, it’s because he feels the need to be seen by her. To vicariously live through her somewhat quotidian existence which includes a good meal at a restaurant. She has a job, but her job is not her life. He cannot say the same thing.

Everything leads up to finding The Client (Arliss Howard) a tech billionaire in a Sub Pop t-shirt living in Chicago. He has no idea who The Killer is, for him he was just part of a clean-up insurance clause he paid $150K as an add on. All the effort, all the hours, the planning, the flights, busses, rental cars, trains, anonymous hotels, rest stops, lead to a point where the man who put out the contract doesn’t even particularly care about it. It’s just business. Therein lies the rub. If The Killer really believed any of his philosophy and wasn’t running on hubris, he could have accepted the terms of the business he chose for himself.

Fincher’s film is meticulous which just enhances how absurd his protagonist is. It proves how easy it is for someone to infiltrate someone else’s life and space (sign up for a gym membership, order a scanner on Amazon) the contemporary anxiety around privacy and safety will cause some shivers. However, the audience is watching a man fall apart at the seams because he did something he thought he was incapable of. He messed up. All his pop-philosophy mixed with lines that could be on an affirmations card do nothing to cover up that he’s more than pathetic. The Killer is dangerous, of that there is no doubt, but he’s spent so long convincing himself he is an unreadable cypher who “does not give a fuck” that when he discovers he does need to hold on to his ego he’s just as basic as everyone else.

Fassbender is excellent as the non-blinking, eye-twitching protagonist. He manages to be comical, daunting, boring, and petty in the package of nothingness that he’s trying to present. The Killer not a guidebook for serial killers or assassins. As much as he wills it his inability to be somehow above, or different from, the rest of humanity is his hubristic failure.

Fincher does love crime. He adores the games people play with themselves and others to justify their actions and existence. However, Fincher’s game here is to reel the audience in with the promise of one kind of story and deliver something that goes against the grain of the assassin narrative. The Killer is Fincher at his funniest delivering a violent satire that few people could possibly misread.

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell

Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker, (Based on The Killer by Alexis “Matz” Nolent, Luc Jacamon)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Curb on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!