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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dan Webster: ‘The Killer’ is violent and full of A-listers

Michael Fassbender stars in “The Killer.”  (Netflix)
By Dan Webster For the Spokesman-Review

Murder is more popular these days than ever.

That may seem weird, but stories involving murder and those who commit it constitute must-watch material for many among us. And those who are the biggest fans are the ones most likely to seek out David Fincher’s newest Netflix offering “The Killer.”

Seeing Fincher’s name, though, is a bit of a surprise. An A-list talent whose filmmaking resumé is as varied as the man himself is skilled, Fincher is a three-time Oscar-nominee. Yes, he started out as a music-video director and graduated to the big screen by directing the third film in the “Alien” franchise, “Alien³.”

From there his career steadily ascended, careening between genres, from cultural commentaries such as “Fight Club,” “The Social Network” and “Mank” to serious studies of murder such as “Se7en” and “Zodiac.”

If “The Killer” isn’t exactly a step down, it’s only because of Fincher’s innate talents, not to mention those of the actor Michael Fassbender. Overall, the film offers up the straightforward kind of violent storyline that marks the works of a pulp writer such as Jim Thompson. Based on a series of French graphic novels, “The Killer” focuses on a hired assassin (Fassbender) who makes his living by hiring himself out to those who can afford exorbitant fees.

He is, however, a thinking-man’s professional. He follows a personal set of rules that has kept him alive over the course of his career. Among them: “Stick to your plan. Anticipate. Trust no one. Never yield an advantage. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight.” And following up on that last one, don’t make the fight into something personal.

We learn much of this through the narration that Fassbender provides, giving us a glimpse into his character’s mind as he waits to complete yet another job. Not that he speaks out loud. Fassbender’s character, who listens to songs by the Smiths so as not to get distracted, utters no more than a couple of dozen words over the course of the film.

But we hear his inner thoughts – which gradually contradict his self-imposed professional rules – after his latest job goes wrong.

That blunder sets in motion a series of events that causes our protagonist – whom the film credits only as the Killer – to flee. But then, after realizing that he has been compromised, he sets out on what becomes a new mission, this time one of revenge. And things do then indeed get personal.

Some critics are describing “The Killer” as a dark comedy. But that’s a stretch. Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Keith Walker do give us a few clever moments, to be sure. But the violence – and especially one extended fight to the death – tend to evoke more grimaces then chuckles.

Fassbender, though, is always fascinating to watch. And Tilda Swinton, in what is basically a cameo, brings a sense of poignancy to her role as one of The Killer’s targets.

Fincher may be slumming with this tale of murder. But the upshot, so to speak, is this: He gets away with it.