Film Review: The Killer is a precise and darkly comedic antidote for genre expectation

With its tried and true premise, and graphic novel origins, one may expect The Killer to fall into the expected traps and tropes of the hitman subsect of the action genre.  And though that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, with David Fincher at the helm, as well as reuniting with his Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, you can trust this will be a more killer, less filler thriller.

Whilst Fincher and Walker are once again fine-tuning the clinical fascination with violence, The Killer is a more introspective experience for its unnamed, titular player (played with deadpan precision by a flawless Michael Fassbender).  There’s traces of American Psycho‘s meticulous Patrick Bateman present as this contract killer carries out his duties with a level of professionalism that is often masked by his own sense of self; the delusion in his own grandeur is darkly comedic, and I can only hope that receptive audiences are in on Fincher’s blackly humorous wave length.

A film that favours dialogue over action, The Killer presents us with the character’s inner monologues pertaining to the mundane observations he’s come to realise during his travels; McDonalds is a good stop for quick protein and he no longer books Airbnb – too many “nanny cams”, apparently.  And just as The Killer’s inner ramblings have perhaps reached their limit – though, in all honesty, I’d happily listen to Fassbender’s musings for much longer – we finally see his sniper-work in action, but when his planned execution doesn’t go according to (which makes his set-up of meticulousness all the funnier), the film opens itself up as our protagonist scrambles to right his wrong.

After an evidence-destroying vespa ride through the cobblestoned backstreets of Paris (a beautifully executed sequence), The Killer’s James Bond-like way of life is presented in a series of episodic chapters that take us to the Dominican Republic, New Orleans, Florida, New York and Chicago as he seeks out a variety of similarly matter-of-factly named characters (including the impeccable Tilda Swinton as “The Expert”) who could possibly do him some harm knowing that he’s botched his latest job.

As he unloads his collection of weapons and fake passports in the commercial storage units he hires out, before jetting across the globe in his staple bucket hat and Hawaiian shirt, The Killer continues with his cool, calm demeanour for every chapter.  Fincher is clearly aware of the talent he has at his disposal with Fassbender, and the actor, in return, delivers a masterful performance that manages to extend an emotional furthering beyond his blank-to-lightly-concerned stare that he maintains for the majority of the film’s 118 minutes.

The chapters dedicated to each new city and hard targets vary in their personality; some are wryly funny (Swinton manages to execute quite a dirty little joke about a sodomising bear), others tragic.  The standout though, next to Swinton and Fassbender’s exchange, is The Killer’s Floridian visit, where his meeting with the hulking figure known simply as The Brute (New Zealand stuntman Sala Baker) results in a brutal hand-t0-mostly-hand combat that is likely to stand as one of the year’s most exciting, and visceral, sequences.  It’s dirty and violent, and though it stands out even more due to the majority of The Killer‘s dialogue-first mentality, it’s a perfect execution in a film that delights in coldness.

Those hoping for something more mainstream best be on guard with The Killer, but for the initiated (i.e. Fincher fans), it’ll prove the right antidote for genre expectation.  It may be a tale built around vengeance, but there’s an existentialism to the film’s look at death that is gorgeously precise and darkly comedic.


The Killer is now screening in select Australian theatres.  It will be available to stream on Netflix from November 10th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.