David Fincher’s Fight Club debuted in Venice 1999. Since then, the director has graced us with some phenomenal films, many of them about killers real or imagined. Returning to Venice in competition with The Killer, Fincher might not shock and awe us as he did with that extraordinary earlier movie, but this is an accomplished and entertaining thriller, nevertheless.
The title credits are a treat, for starters. Jagged images that disappear before you quite realise what you’re seeing but these brief splintered scenes depict a catalogue of killings. Are they the promise of what’s to come? Not really. It transpires they are more of a greatest hits list.
The premise is simple and familiar: a hitman (Michael Fassbender) is hired for a job. Chapter One opens in Paris with our antihero leading an ascetic existence as he awaits the arrival of a hit. As we watch the unblinking assassin go about his business, constantly monitoring his heartrate on his Fitbit and doing his yoga, Fassbender’s voiceover explains the life of a hitman. He has a work mixtape that is basically The Smiths on a loop (which would certainly get me in the mood for murder). He also talks wistfully of the good old days, when he got to do more elaborate killings – it’s been ages since the poor guy got to orchestrate “a quiet drowning” for example.
The Killer – for he has no name, or rather he has too many to mention – receives his orders over the phone, a bit like a lone, murderous Charlie’s Angel. His mantra is that you stick to the plan, you don’t improvise and you don’t get personal. All this goes out the window when the Paris hit fails and the hunter becomes the hunted. When the action moves to his home in the Dominican Republic, things get very personal indeed.
From here on in, though, it’s pretty bog standard stuff, albeit directed and acted very deftly. It transpires that our assassin was recruited while studying law. His intelligence is clear, but so is his sense of intellectual superiority. There’s disdain for a bodyguard – “Good luck with the Wordle” – and for pretty much all the denizens of Florida, “the sunshine state – where else can you find so many like-minded individuals… outside a penitentiary?” This is pure conjecture, but I’d bet good money that Fincher feels the same way (though he doesn’t have a writer’s credit).
The film moves around the globe, the protagonist picking from a vast array of passports and an arsenal that could arm a battalion. He’s like James Bond, only naughtier. But questions about people who choose to do the job they do are raised and intelligently discussed.
With a fabulous cameo from Tilda Swinton (who “looks like a human Q-Tip”) and a troublingly convincing central performance from Fassbender, plus minor roles for Charles Parnell as Professor Hodges and Kerry O’Malley as the aptly named Dolores, Fincher has assembled a tight crew for this job. Yet frustratingly, he seems to be on cruise mode and the film lacks the thrills and cinematic surprises of previous works. Perhaps one of the issues lies in the fact that it’s hard to root for someone who is such a successful murderer (despite our love of baddies such as Tony Soprano et al). But that doesn’t stop Fincher from trying, and – like the pros they are – he and Michael Fassbender just about pull it off.
The Killer is released in the UK on October 27, and lands on Netflix on November 10