If the French public can still complain about his absence on the big screen (the rules are different regarding the broadcast of Netflix’s works in cinemas in the United States), the fact is that David Fincher feels at home on the streaming platform he has worked with since House of Cards.
Naturally, this obsessed with absolute creative control had so many mishaps with Hollywood studios that he didn’t think twice when the red N signed him a blank check. It’s a pity, if sometimes he has to obey the decisions of the SVoD service, such as the cancellation of his Mindhunter series, which allowed him to sign his most personal film dedicated to his father with Manko three years ago. A film that has both fans and detractors because at times it seemed to forget the viewer too much. A criticism that cannot be addressed to The Killer, because the viewer is precisely the target of Fincher’s killer.
Here, a professional assassin has his whole life turned upside down after a failed mission. In search of revenge, we will follow him little by little in the food chain. The story is simple and can be compared to a modest B series in the “revenge movie” mode that studios like to shower on us, streaming or not. Except that once again you have to remember who signs the film. We are talking about a filmmaker who likes to appropriate the codes of the genre in order to question and shake them as much as possible. Can we reduce Panic Room to some kind of “home invasion”? Seven to a banal thriller?
Adapting the Matz & Jacamon comic, David Fincher embarks on a cold, suspenseful work, driven by the musings of a double, almost mute killer. The first twenty minutes excellently establish the character as well as what will follow: you have to follow the plan, trust no one, predict and don’t get attached. An anti-hero who bases his success on distancing himself from the world, from the masses and the expectations of the audience.
Because far from presenting us with a charismatic, recognizable figure, who carefully eliminates his targets, Fincher’s killer must be like everyone else, show patience and overcome boredom. Observation, preparation, elaboration. The man is clinical, methodical, cynical. In action, the director favors the pervasive tension that he handles so well, offering in passing a wonderful field of expression for Michael Fassbender, who we haven’t seen so talented in some time.
But the great strength of The Assassin is that it reminds us of the extent to which staging can tell an entire story that could almost do without dialogue. Even if he defends himself against this analysis, it’s hard not to see in his killer the image of David Fincher, who we know is a control freak to the point of repeating a scene a hundred times until he gets exactly what he wants. And when the situation escapes them, the killer or the director even fight: improvisation can create the best solution. Or not. The killer is a reflection of methodology as much as our ability to embrace the unexpected.
If Fincher signs a kind of introspection of the profession, in The Killer, as usual, there is no improvisation, and we recognize the style of the master of the orchestra from a mile away. The precision of the shot, the mastery of the narrative, everything is surgical, right down to the fight scene that teaches a lesson to many actors thanks to Kirk Baxter’s cut and the play of natural light that Fincher loves.
But we must not believe that the director lets himself be led by his habits because he enjoys exploring new territories in the image of the camera from the hand expressing the loss of control over his character, as if the frame, the personification of the spirit is its protagonist, has become unstable, cramped, and it was necessary create movement to find stability. As always, the director proves that directing is a science and that the film is created from the alchemy of elements.
All the more so, and we’re used to it, Fincher doesn’t neglect anything even in the sound of his film. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross create a soundtrack as dark as the subject, and Ren Klyce does a fantastic job on the soundtrack that accompanies the killer’s inner monologues.
Viewer in the viewfinder
In a certain sense, this feature film is undoubtedly the one that best suits its director, slipping in all his expressions, his paradoxes. Thus, the Killer can be seen from several angles, reading the paths because ultimately it says a lot through the prism of a seemingly banal story.
How can you not feel targeted when Fincher proves that our relationship with technology, with security, ends up being our worst enemy as the killer uses them as weapons to get to us. However, this same killer, who wants to be extraordinary, keeps returning to the norm, as if there is no escape from it. The Assassin is a story about fate or the lack of fate. Basically, a form of humor exists in a feature film because it enjoys systematically and voluntarily taking on the opposite of what its protagonist wants to achieve. It’s a skilled tour de force that likes to mock the system by offering it immutability.
The Killer is a lesson in cinematography, storytelling, direction that goes straight to the point and allows itself to tell a lot. It is a surprising work even though it is purely Fincherian. A playful film that never forgets its killer or its audience. A film that shines even in its imperfections (especially the ending, which is a bit too classic). David Fincher simply, once again, killed the competition.