dir: David Fincher
This isn’t to be confused with the legendary John Woo flick that introduced the world to the glory that is Chow Yun Fat, and the idea in movies that you could have a protagonist shoot hundreds of people before going to his eternal reward…
Now, of course, everyone gets to do it, but back then, I assure you, it was new, novel, fresh. Hong Kong fresh.
This The Killer is about a killer (Michael Fassbender) who kills people for money. Not for sexual gratification or anything so crude. It’s a purely financial transaction, which he tries to deliver in a professional and efficient manner.
He talks to us constantly, in his head, as he repeats his bullshit mantras about never having empathy or being precise or whatever, and sticking to his own rules, plan instead of improvise, be ready for every eventuality. Except he can’t even stick to his own rules, a lot of the time.
The voiceover is tiresome, but I think it’s meant to be tiresome. Without it, we’d have very little to go on. The killer rarely talks, and when he does, his words are clipped, as if almost painful.
Again, while he comes across as flat, I think it’s deliberately flat. His style is the lack of style he deliberately cultivates. There is no looking cool in a tailored bulletproof suit or swinging around wildly in elaborately choreographed sequences with flashy weapons. The one extended fight scene we get is brutal, close-up, and doled out with whatever household weapons come to hand.
So, there’s no cool assassin’s hotel, no neon everywhere, there’s no personal animus, there’s no revenge component (not really, I don’t think). There’s no dead child, or dead puppy as motivation, or a beloved partner cut down in their prime.
I have no idea what motivates the central character, and that’s not a bad thing. He is, for all intents and purposes, a process, a cog in the wheel of late stage capitalism. When he fucks up his job, the first job we see him perform, which takes twenty fucking minutes, a process is kicked off which he follows back to its source in order to find out why it even started.
And that requires meticulous planning, lots of fake passports in the names of television characters from yesteryear, from Archie Bunker to Felix Unger to Oscar Madison, and his unelaborate disguise. The theory behind it is that no-one likes or wants to speak to someone dressed like a German tourist. So in dressing like a German tourist, or his version of it, people won’t look at him, won’t engage, so he’ll be practically invisible.
I guess that’s one of the many reasons why the flick doesn’t go to Berlin. He looks less like a German tourist, from my perspective, since he’s still rail thin, and more like a minor figure from the Britpop 90s era. Speaking of which, and this has nothing to do with that era, the character listens to, and therefore we get to listen to, an awful lot of Smiths songs.
So many Smiths songs. All of them from before, you know, before Morrissey became known for his bigoted views rather than his music or the gladioli.
Why are there so many songs from The Smiths? I have no idea, I don’t even know if it’s being used ironically. The character’s age would sort of imply that it’s not music he grew up with, being too young for it to be formative, but then I have no idea what age the character is really meant to be, being such a blank slate.
It’s an easy assumption to make that Fincher is taking the piss, but then considering that he’s notorious for doing hundreds of takes for scenes, and for his stern meticulousness, I’m sure the music means something to him. It’s just that it’s so many Smiths songs that you wonder (or at least I wondered, while watching it) whether he was trying to funnel money to the band members (hopefully more went to Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke or Mike Joyce than to the obvious) through licensing the song rights.
Otherwise, there’s more Smiths music in this goddamn film that you would get in a documentary about the goddamn Smiths. I’ll stop talking about that now, I promise.
Once our killer figures out that someone is trying to kill him, he backtracks from an attack at his weird Dominican hideout through a taxi driver he really didn’t need to kill back to the people that organised the hit, all being traced back to where it started from.
I don’t know what his relationship is with the woman who was brutalised and tortured for his whereabouts at that house, but she’s awfully proud of herself for not giving anything up. I’m quite unsure as to how it is that she survived, since the people that tortured her for an hour or so were The Brute (Sala Baker) and The Expert (the great Tilda Swinton), but they aren’t called that by The Killer, or anyone, really. I think Swinton’s character is referred to as looking like a Q Tip, which we don’t really have in Australia, but I guess we would call them cotton buds.
How dare you compare Tilda Swinton to a cotton bud! For shame…
Each of these occasions allows the killer to show off his skills and his ability to use modern online services in order to get access to or kill people more readily and more efficiently. I don’t know what Postmates is, but I do understand how one can use Prime membership to get next day delivery of whatever it is that someone needs in order to… kill people better through Amazon.
Is there some commentary being made on either the online world or the gig economy, and how truly soulless it is?
There is a flatness here, a deliberate Level 1 followed by Level 2 order that seems like it’s following the template of action movies or games whereby you ascend through a structure or across a map beating underlings and minor bosses until you get to the top, and presumably the big boss who you must best. But that’s not what’s going on here, or at least not how it plays out.
Maybe the Big Bad is Capitalism. And you can’t slay such a beast, because it’s everywhere. So when our killer gets to the “Final Level”, and has a conversation with someone, the film exhibits the most absurd of shoulder shrugs since there’s nothing really that either connects the two chaps or compels any course of action. There’s even less motivation than in the other stuff that happens along the way.
It’s all well done, no doubt. If there are standout scenes, it’s probably the fight with the Brute in Florida, although given his accent it’s confusing as to how a Kiwi / Maori voluntarily ended up in Florida (it’s not relevant, but enquiring minds need to solve pointless conundrums), but that’s only because the rest of the flick is devoid of such action. The rest is more of the tense, coiled variety of scene.
Such as the one with the Cotton Bud, I’m sorry, I meant The Expert. Transpiring as it does in an upmarket New York restaurant, a place where the Tilda character is well-known, the scene is a master class in coiled tension. Tilda’s character is both apologetic and hopeful that there could be some way out of her predicament.
She tells a very un-Tilda Swinton like joke, about a hunter and a bear, and I have to admit I pissed myself laughing at it when she delivered the punchline.
It’s not clear in the joke (well, not at first at least), as to who the hunter is in their scenario, and who the bear is. It’s kind of implied that she’s the bear, and he’s the hunter, but the hunter comes off worse in the joke than the bear does, especially when it comes to the hunter’s implied motivation.
To say I love that scene would be to say that I loved and was charmed by something that Tilda did, which is something I have said hundreds of times over the decades in countless movies.
And even with the ice cold twist at the end of the scene, with The Expert slipping, and asking for a gallant hand up, the whole scene is like a perfect vignette, a perfect short story, in an entirely fussy and ‘perfect’ film.
I will say that I enjoyed the flick. I feel like I shouldn’t have enjoyed it, but there’s something about the meticulousness of it, and the way it calls itself on its own bullshit (pretending to have a philosophical chap as its center, where in reality he’s as deep as a puddle, but still very good at what he does) especially as it resides firmly within the confines of the online digital economy. Fassbender is great at projecting the void that is at the center of this killer, for whom nothing matters more than a job well done.
8 times The Killer shouldn’t be one of the films of the year, but it is, so deal with it out of 10
“One is born, lives their life, then eventually, one dies. In the meantime, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law", to quote... someone. Can't remember who.” – you are so wise - The Killer