A-Lister Michael Fassbender and Director David Fincher Come Together for a Killer Thriller
A new Fincher movie is always an event. His latest is The Killer — a stylish, slick thriller in the mould of the professional hitman movie starring Michael Fassbender.
The title might as well be an AI generated catch-all of Fincher’s oeuvre. Fincher has been obsessed with killers from Seven through to Zodiac and Netflix series Mindhunter. A sidestep into the assassin genre was not exactly a conceptual leap. However, this is a genre in which it is difficult to avoid being derivative — think George Clooney in The American, Matt Damon in the Bourne movies etc etc.
Michael Mann managed to produce an original take with Collateral through the storyline of a coerced accomplice. The interplay of Jamie Foxx’s taxi driver and Tom Cruise’s hitman plays out like a spellbinding stage play. Here all we have to go on are the internal monologues of The Killer until the encounter with another professional assassin played by Tilda Swinton offers some kind of repartee on their inner turmoil.
Fassbender plays the titular ‘The Killer’ and we find him in an apartment hired from WeWork. He tells us that he stopped using Airbnb on account of the tendency towards nanny cams. The Killer’s thoughts reveal fragments of his philosophy of life. But he does not probe too deep into the morality of what he does. Fassbender does a good line in amoral sociopaths from Shame to 12 Years A Slave. His performance here offers both a certain affability and a remote unknowability.
The Killer prioritises anonymity through being as forgettable as possible — he drolly tells us that this is best achieved through being a German tourist because nobody wants to interact with German tourists. He stakes out his high-profile target patiently. Days and nights spent in a state of ennui and sleep deprivation. His internal monologue muses on his favourite lie of the military-industrial complex — that sleep deprivation did not qualify as torture. I’m not really sure though that professional hitmen share liberal sentiments on such matters.
The Killer is a top-of-the-line hitman, who is paid handsomely to eliminate his targets whilst being untraceable. His methodology ranges from the boringly predictable telescopic-sighted sniper to the more inventive suiciding of victims through accidental drowning or neck-breaking falls down to the macabre of a radioactive speck on a coffee mug. As he puts it, you had better hope that our paths don’t cross.
But unprecedently, this job goes wrong and predator becomes prey before it turns into a revenge thriller. The Killer returns to his compound hide-out in the Dominican Republic and thinks he is home free. The irony of assassin turned victim is simply automatic protocol. It is a clean-up job on aisle 3 as the hunted-down client relates. It is nothing personal, just business. Until of course one is the object of said business.
This is a fairly insubstantial plot and one wonders if the movie would have been better served with a storyline showing the Killer’s successful hits fleshing out the lives of his super rich targets culminating in a compressed version of the hit gone wrong.
The films of David Fincher are arguably the single best body of work mapping the dark contours of the new millennium. Fincher is the natural heir to Michael Mann’s surface obsession.
Fight Club was the movie as movement. The film anticipated much of what has come to pass — its sardonic satirising of Western assimilation of Eastern traditions as a false crutch for spiritual torpor, its critique of consumerism and psychological malaise. The rage engendered by the crisis of masculinity. The populist discontent of the masses exploited by corporatist capitalism. And the opening and closing scenes centred on the controlled demolition of the headquarters of global financial institutions not only eerily foreshadowed 9/11, the conspiracy theories surrounding the world historical event of the new century but a new age of disbelief to come. Fight Club’s apocalyptic prophecy was that the world we know will end not with a whimper but with a bang.
Zodiac and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were psychological thrillers defined by obsessional protagonists searching for elusive killers. An obsessional modus operandi being a hallmark of Fincher’s work, who reputedly can do a hundred takes until he gets it right.
What Fincher manages to do time and again is to tap into the zeitgeist of the 21st century. Gone Girl had a compelling immediacy as a satire on media and celebrity culture. The Social Network was neither thriller nor about killers yet it is remarkably hypnotic in its representation of a world in flux transformed by new technologies. Aaron Sorkin’s cerebral screenplay combined with Fincher’s directing proved to be an irresistible partnership.
Fincher’s production of House of Cards is arguably his most important work — a monumental transplantation of the original to the American political landscape. The Underwoods were presented as a modern Macbeth power couple murdering their way to the Oval office. Yet even this would eventually be shorn of its shock value as it was overtaken by the reality of Trumpism echoing Tom Lehrer’s comment that satire died on the day that Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.
Fincher’s The Killer is an urbane addition to his important body of work. But this is minor or at best mediocre Fincher.