The Killer (2023)

Directed by David Fincher

After a fateful near-miss, an assassin battles his employers, and himself, on an international manhunt he insists isn't personal.

Many commentators have suggested that the combination of aesthetic perfectionism and violence depicted in The Killer will be appropriated in the same way that Fight Club has been. I can see where this idea stems from, but I think this fundamentally misunderstands the appeal of Fight Club to the reactionary mind. Whilst both films are indeed stylishly violent, The Killer austere protagonist clearly lacks the pleasure and the sadism that runs through Fight Club. Moreover, The Killer conveys nothing particularly novel about gender, say, whilst Fight Club had an extraordinary amount to say about the politics of masculinity for mainstream Hollywood film. Ditto class and the broader economic climate, notwithstanding the winking references to WeWork. The Killer is also, as the title clearly underlines, a film about a solitary killer; it crucially is not about a homosocial group who have sublimated their personalities and sexual desire through a cult of personality embodied in a single leader. All this, combined with the pretty trite observation that The Killer's protagonist dresses like a dork and acts like a weirdo loser, makes it hard to see how he will get inside and rot the brains of the proto-Fascists out there. I mean, Brad Pitt made American fascism look really damn attractive. But, hey, the Right is pretty resourceful, so what do I know.

Either way, though, I'm looking forward to when Fincher works with a screenplay worthy of his talents again. The Killer is not exactly bad and it's weirdly gripping for such a lightweight fare, but it really does feel like thin gruel… not helped by Tilda Swinton stealing the show for ten minutes or so. It "holds your gaze even as your mind wanders." The most optimistic thing I can say is that, in 30 or 40 years and we can only really remember the stand-out assassin films of the century (eg. The Bourne Identity, etc.) then this will be reevaluated as a dry, in-genre pastiche that was well ahead of its time and nobody 'got' in its day.


[The] offhand glimpse of a boy training a toy gun on his unsuspecting mother is just a sight gag. Or does it suggest some kind of broad statement about the culture of ambient, hardwired violence that produces mercenary murderers like Michael Fassbender’s nameless, heartless assassin? Another option: It perfectly foreshadows a later sequence featuring Tilda Swinton as a quasi-maternal figure who ends up on the wrong end of her colleague’s barrel—the closest the movie gets to an emotional reckoning. The finer point, though, is that like most of the setups in The Killer, it’s a point-of-view shot, a fact that effectively personalizes its meaning without clarifying it. Fincher’s intention here is to put us behind this unfeeling assassin’s eyeballs, begging us to ask whether Fassbender’s character is distracted, contemplative, or simply checking his blind spot out of habit. The media clichés about Fincher’s taskmaster tactics are getting old; the images he conjures up out of his methodology are enduring. There’s a difference.

Adam Nayman (The Ringer)