David Fincher’s films are often cold-blooded and I was wary of him adapting the graphic novel The Killer. Sure enough, this cheerless bit of 21st century pop existentialism is schematically laid out, following an assassin as he performs one hit after another.

Fincher is also a master craftsman, and the film is meticulously well-made, drawing on the talents of cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, production designer Donald Graham Burt, and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, among others. Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay is broken into chapters, a conceit which seldom works to any film’s advantage. Here, each one is named for the victim of the hired assassin, played by an emotionless Michael Fassbender, and the location of the kill (Paris, New Orleans, wherever).

There is a sameness to the rhythm of each chapter, which concludes with someone dying (no spoiler alert required). Fincher and his team have taken care in the staging of these shootings, no question, but I don’t know what it all adds up to.  

Fassbender, whose character narrates the film in a repetitive voice-over, is as unexpressive as Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the original Terminator. Some of his victims get more opportunity to create three-dimensional characters, especially Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell and Arliss Howard. But it’s not enough to make up for the movie’s feeling of emptiness. The Killer is dead on arrival.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024