Monday November 20, 2023
Movie Review: The Killer (2023)
Does he always listen to “The Smiths” or does he mix it up? I.e., was he killing people to R.E.M. last month? Or the Beatles? Can you kill someone to “Shiny Happy People” or “All You Need Is Love”?
(I just flashed on a montage of slow-motion murder with “All You Need Is Love” on the soundtrack, and I think it would totally work—in that ironic, too-cool-for-school way.)
Bigger question: Is he any good? He seems good. He’s a cold-blooded professional killer who looks like he knows what he’s doing, and who, in voiceover, keeps repeating the following mantra: “Stick to your plan. Anticipate, don't improvise. Trust no one. Never yield an advantage. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight.” But does he follow any of his own advice? Isn’t most of the movie a battle no one’s paying him to fight? A battle where he keeps improvising and doesn’t stick to the plan? Doesn’t he miss his primary target and then leave a trail of blood in pursuit of the people who attacked his home and girlfriend, only to let off the man at the top?
And sure, that man at the top seems to genuinely not know the havoc he caused. He’s innocent … ish. But so is the cab driver and he got his brains splattered all over the front windshield. But then he was poor.
This charming man
David Fincher’s latest, and his second for Netflix (after the disappointing “Mank”), zips along and keeps us interested but in the end doesn’t resonate. For the thousandth time, I think of what Roger Ebert said about watching George Roy Hill’s “The World According to Garp.” He sat there thinking, “This is nice … this is nice …” and it got to the end and … “That’s it?” A lot of movies are like this.
Michael Fassbender plays our titular, unnamed anti-hero who travels the world using the aliases of 1970s sitcom characters: Felix Unger, Archie Bunker, George Jefferson, Bob Hartley. Curious: Is this more than just a fun, pop-cultural aside? Is it a commentary on the dead-eyed hordes a childhood of watching TV creates? Wait, are we supposed to believe Fassbender is old enough to have grown up on this shit? He was actually born in ’77. These were my guys, not his. He’s not even 50 yet. Piker.
The first 15 minutes of the movie is Fassbender dealing with the boredom of a stakeout in Paris. We don’t know who he’s trying to kill but the target isn't arriving, so he spends the day, and much of the night, staring out the window of the empty, fifth-or-sixth-floor apartment waiting for an opportunity. We see him eat minimally, sleep minimally, stretch, do yoga. We hear him think. A lot. We get tons of voiceover.
The movie is based on a long-running graphic novel series of the same name by French writer Alexis Nolent (pen name: Matz) and French artist Luc Jacamon, and the voiceovers have a comic-book-y, Frank Miller-by-way-of-Mickey-Spillane quality to them—with maybe a little more wit and way more philosophy and statistics. Among the thoughts:
A hundred and forty million human beings are born every year, give or take. Worldwide population is approximately 7.8 billion. Every second, 1.8 people die—while 4.2 are born into that very same second. Nothing I've ever done will make any dent in these metrics.
At the same time, who's he talking to? Half of what he says doesn’t sound like stuff people think to themselves. Is this how he keeps himself interested? Pretending he has an audience? Pretending there's an us?
Eventually the target arrives, with a mistress or $1,000-a-night hooker, and, waiting a millisecond too long, or not anticipating properly, our guy, The Killer, TK, kills her rather than him. Then it’s off to the races. Leaving no trace, he escapes the country and returns to his estate in the Dominican Republic, only to find his house broken into and his girlfriend in the hospital. Two assailants. One beat her up and possibly raped her. The rest of the movie is his search for the people responsible.
He’s very efficient but keeps screwing up. For the New Orleans lawyer who acts as go-between, he pumps three nails into his chest with a nail gun—cha-CHUNK, cha-CHUNK, cha-CHUNK—and thinks: “Early middle age, non-smoker, about 180 pounds. Should last six, seven minutes.” The guy slumps over immediately. “Shit.” In Florida, he lets himself get attacked by The Brute (Sala Baker), then miscalculates the dosage necessary to keep his pit bull asleep. Again and again, he’s wrong, and again and again, he thinks he’s righter than everyone. Is that the point?
I like the standoff with Tilda Swinton’s assassin over the flight of whisky at the high-end restaurant in NY. Question: Why did he eventually take the drink she offered? Because he figured one drink against her five wouldn’t put him at a disadvantage? Because he wanted her to think he was letting his guard down? I do like the way she gets it. She falls down some stairs, asks for a hand, and he seems to offer it—but instead of a helping hand there's a gun in it and he puts a bullet in her forehead. Then the reveals—to himself and us—the knife she was about to use on him.
Chicago is where he finally finds The Client (Arliss Howard), but he’s a nondescript cretinous businessman whose security, per TK, isn’t exactly Mensa. “Good luck with the Wordle,” TK thinks. If you believe The Client, he agreed to a thing without knowing the thing. It was all the New Orleans lawyer. Or not. Maybe The Lawyer assumed The Client knew the thing when he didn’t. So our hero, or antihero, gets to the top and it is what it is: exposed, frayed wires. Nonsensical. No one's running the show.
I know it’s over
Is there an epiphany for TK at the end? Is he changed by all that happens? Most of the movie, he seems above it all. Back in Paris, for example, as he’s looking through a rifle scope, maybe picking off innocent café patrons in his mind, he thinks about how throughout history the few have exploited the many, and “make sure you’re one of the few, not one of the many.” That’s his life advice to his nonexistent audience. Be one of the few. Like him.
In the end, he’s back at his mansion in the DR, with the girlfriend who’s recovering from the attack. He serves her a cappuccino. They lay on lounge chairs. And he thinks about how security and fate are placebos, no one knows the future, the only life path is the one behind you. Then he thinks this:
If, in the brief time we're all given, you can’t accept this, well, maybe you’re not one of the few.
Maybe you’re just like me. One of the many.
Then behind his cool shades, his eye twitches.
Again, it was fun, just not much of a payoff. But it was nice seeing Michael F. again. Been awhile. Apparently the last movie he made/released was pre-pandemic: “Dark Phoenix.” This is better.