Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema

The Killer

Directed by David Fincher
Produced by Ceán Chaffin, William Doyle, and Peter Mavromates
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker Based on the graphic novel series Le Tueur by Alexis "Matz" Nolent and Luc Jacamon
With: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, Arliss Howard, Kerry O'Malley, Sophie Charlotte, Emiliano Pernía, Gabriel Polanco, and Sala Baker
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
Editing: Kirk Baxter
Music: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Runtime: 118 min
Release Date: 27 October 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

After more than a century of movies, it's pretty difficult to get excited about a film with the generic and utterly bland title of "The Killer." Let me guess... It's about a hitman? Of course, this movie's point is that a hitman's life is rather boring unless they make a mistake. But that premise isn't enough to make this adaptation of Matz Nolent and Luc Jacamon's French graphic novel series into a compelling thriller. Nor is the fact that's directed by the preeminent visualist David Fincher and stars Michael Fassbender, an actor known for deeply internalized character studies of lonely, disturbed men (Hunger, Shame, Frank, Prometheus, etc).

There are A LOT of movies that follow the basic template of this story. Many of them have similarly interchangeable titles like The Hitman or Hitmen. And even the most creative entries in the subgenre—from This Gun for Hire in 1942 to Branded to Kill in 1967, to The Killer in 1989 to Haywire in 2011, to The Jason Bourne movies—all feature the protagonists unwinding some net in which they've been ensnared. Most of those films find a compelling way to tell that story, but The Killer is not interested in storytelling. This picture is, first and foremost, a character study. But it centers on a character neither complex nor fascinating. Are we really supposed to care if this guy succeeds in his quest to find out who beat up his girlfriend after he missed a target?

The narrative is little more than a frame to hang elaborate sequences of a professional's meticulous process interspersed with well-staged acts of bloody violence. But nothing about the film engages the viewer. Watching The Killer is like looking at detailed but lifeless storyboards of a proposed remake of John Boorman's Point Blank while someone monotonously reads you excerpts from the Richard Stark source novel that's been embellished with just enough silly, self-aware humor to strip the prose of any credibility.

The screenplay comes courtesy of Andrew Kevin Walker, whose spec script for Seven (1995) gave Fincher his first big success. Walker's later screenwriting credits include winners like 8mm (1999), The Wolfman (2010), and Windfall (2022). Here, he seems tasked with tailoring a script to Fincher's preoccupations with obsessive perfectionism and the minutia of process. These are predilections Fincher famously shares with many of his protagonists, which have sometimes served his films to a great extent (Zodiac, The Social Network, Gone Girl) and just as often bogged his pictures down with unnecessary pretensions (Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mank). This vapid, instantly forgettable movie is notable only for being the weakest entry in the filmography of an important director.

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Like looking at detailed but lifeless storyboards of a proposed Point Blank remake while someone reads excerpts from the source novel embellished with just enough humorous, self-aware updates to strip Stark's prose of all credibility.