STREAMING: MURDER MASTERPIECE

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The official logline — an elevator pitch used to sell movie ideas in Hollywood — for The Killer goes like this: After a fateful near-miss, an assassin (Michael Fassbender) battles his employers, and himself, on an international manhunt he insists isn’t personal.

When it comes to movies, especially for a film titled The Killer, we know it’s never not personal.

An adaptation by Andrew Kevin Walker from the French graphic novel of the same name (graphic novels are another name for prestige-format, serious-sounding comic books), this David Fincher-directed film lives in a perpetual world of a slow ramp.

The story — mostly covered in the logline that also serves as the film’s synopsis — is mainly a series of small connected events that take their sweet time building up to a highpoint. However, with Fincher being Fincher (he directed Se7en, Fight Club, The Game, Gone Girl), the highpoints serve the function of intense hand-offs to the next sequence, rather than the cliched, steep, face-first, nose-dived culmination of scenes one sees in every other movie.

Michael Fassbender is fantastic as the self-conscious professional assassin in David Fincher’s The Killer

A key factor that differentiates the knitting of these sequences are the voiceover-ed thoughts we hear of the nameless central character; in film lingo — specifically in the manner they are used — these voiceovers are called inner monologues.

Kevin Walker, who has officially written Se7en and the Love, Death + Robots’ episode Bad Travelling for Fincher to direct (and has helped refine drafts of The Game and Fight Club), turns the inner monologue of the central character into an engaging plot device.

Inner monologues are hackneyed exposition techniques that are not favoured by screenwriters because they spoon-feed information to the audience. In Fincher’s hands, this filmmaking element becomes a blunt instrument that augments the narrative; I mean, what better way is there to navigate the story than to attach oneself immovably to the mind of the film’s protagonist, who is also, in a manner of speaking, the villain of the story.

The inner dialogue lays bare the soul of the Killer who, akin to The Narrator from Fight Club (Edward Norton’s character), remains mostly nameless despite adopting a number of aliases.

One realises in the first few minutes of the film that the slow, long talks to himself are a mode of self-consolation for the hitman whose long-gestating hit goes wrong. Throwing away his arsenal while escaping Paris (very cool scene), the hitman returns home to find his girlfriend (Sophie Charlotte) critically injured and becomes John Wick — ie a man who will kill all because he is pissed off.

In The Killer’s case, the dialogue is a necessity in a contrived story that’s restructured into a riveting, auteurist masterpiece (one also has to acknowledge the stellar editing and cinematography by Kirk Baxter and Erik Messerschmidt, respectively).

Michael Fassbender is fantastic as the self-conscious professional assassin. Mostly silent, his words literally speak volumes, in both senses of the words; he is vocal despite being silent and has the most speaking lines in the screenplay.

Coupled with Fincher’s use of a livid, ambience-heavy background score and sound design, one sees the purposely deliberate uses of a myriad of filmmaking techniques at their best display. Now, if more movies were made with such deliberateness, cinema would not be in the sad state it is now.

Also starring Tilda Swinton, Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley and Sala Baker, The Killer is a Netflix original production that’s rated suitable for ages 18 and over. The film has scenes of nudity, sex, violence and death — in other words, what one routinely expects from a grim story of a contract killer hell-bent on vengeance

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 3rd, 2023

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