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.