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Thread: THE KILLER (David Fincher 2023)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE KILLER (David Fincher 2023)



    Fincher's pro assassin is a brutal, badly dressed bore

    It was the French website AlloCiné that remineded me Fincher's The Killer had been released on Netflix. "NOUVEAUTÉ - NETFLIX," I saw, "Le grand retour du réalisateur de Fight Club. Well, that was where the coolness ended, alas. Fincher's new film is about a professional assassin who's supposed to be perfect and meticulous. But he turns out to be a bore, a blowhard and a bad dresser. He explains, truthfully enough no doubt, that his is a boring job, because so much of it is spent waiting. Faire enogh; and for a moment we enjoy being given the inside dope. But then he f-cks up, and, rather inexplicably, turns into a revenge killer. The bad dressing is intentional (it's so as not to attract attention) but that's no excuse. And to the boredom is added a wearisome, numbing brutality. The film winds up being as brutal and uninteresting as its titular character.

    This nameless criminal of many, often pop-culture-humorous, pseudonyms - with passports and credit cards to back them up, of course - has been compared to Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, but this suggestion is a travesty. He lacks the style and mystique Delon and Melville inject into that gray, drab, but irresistibly handsome killer, whose stark bedroom, with its peeping caged starling, is the unforgettable opening of a brilliant film. Fincher's killer, played by Michael Fassbinder, is impeccable in his way. And there are moments when, due to the monomaniacal focus, the danger, even to the droning voiceover, you're at least momentarily hypnotized, in the way of a good crime action film - shielded from your daily worries and the awful real killing in today's news. But then the drab brutality takes over.

    The moment when I clearly stopped having fun was near the one-hour point - when our antihero shoots three nine-inch nails into someone's chest and watches him slowly die. This isn't elegant, but maniacal and hideous killing. And it's anything but professional. We get it: he's cleaning up the cleaners-up, because the cleaning-up after his fuckup was unnecessarily brutal and there was personal blowback. And this is the traditional way of revenge: it assumes that two wrongs after all do make a right. But they don't, and when it's just one guy and not a family or clan or the mafia fired up with revenge-spirit, it's less convincing, less interesting. It's never even really clear to me why the killer has to bump off these people. Is he just upset with himself, maybe? He's inconsistent. He's a cold, heartless killer who has lost his cool.

    The Killer is, similarly, a strange, but Fincheresque, bland of the ultra-precise and the murky. There are nifty little details all the way through, moments of wit, contemporary references like WeWork or Wordle, tricks that tease you. But the guy doesn't emerge as a person. He's more a sifter of identities, a taker of air flights, and a gatherer of equipment. He needs something personal,, like that room with the twittering bird in Le Samouraï, but he never gets it.

    Far from a minimalist, he is frequently dropping by a hardware store or one of his (he tells us) six storage rentals, to collect equipment, to cart away a corpse, shoot those nails, set fire to someplace, and contemplate a dazzling, but ultimately numbing, array of handguns, even though he only uses half a dozen. He likes throwing things away. The high-power telesopically equpt rifle at the outset, the one he misses with, he gets rid of in sundry poubelle bins, as he races around Paris on a scooter.

    As is necessary when nothing much is really happening, the film is divided up into chapters. Each one is titled with one of the killer's human targets, not by name, but designation, as "The Lawyer," "The Brute," "The Expert," "The Client," and so forth. This doesn't produce excitement. A sort of highlight comes with Tilda Swinton, the other name actor in the piece, the only target who doesn't try to talk her way ot of beint one, and just delivers a monologue about, I guess, how even when you know the end was going to come, when it actually does, you're still not really ready for it. Not very profound; but Swinton is inherently elegant and does the best that cane be done with what she's given.

    But does Fassbinder? Well, he's good of course; but perhaps another drab voice for the voiceover would serve as well. Stripped of shirt, he's wiry and tight, and he does smoothly the yoga and stretches when he's waiting to kill the French gentleman across the street from the empty WeWork space he's squatted in. But when he tangles with The Brute, there's no grace. The lighting is so mirky you can't even tell which man is on top. It's an ugly scramble. Fights you can't see in action films are inexcusable. Fassbinder cannot rise above these limitations.

    The best parts of The Killer are the opening and the closing. At the start, the elegant Paris street and the watching for the target are full of hope. The killer's monologue has not yet become a repetitous bore. At the end, he's done with revenge and settled down on at his beachfront Dominican spread with his girlfriend. And he's waiting again - to get a tan.

    The Killer, 118, debuted at Venice, also showing at London, New York, and Chicago. releasing Oct. 27 in the US and many countries. It opened on Netflix in many countries Nov. 10. Metacritic rating: 72%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-11-2023 at 12:20 AM.


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