The Killer is a 2023 American action thriller film directed by David Fincher from a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker. It is based on the French graphic novel series The Killer written by Alexis “Matz” Nolent and illustrated by Luc Jacamon. The film stars Michael Fassbender in the title role, alongside Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, and Tilda Swinton in supporting roles. It follows the titular assassin as he embarks on an international vendetta after a hit goes wrong.
Development on the graphic novel adaptation began in 2007 at Paramount Pictures and Plan B Entertainment, with Fincher signed on as director and Alessandro Camon as screenwriter. In 2021, Fincher later moved the project over to Netflix with Andrew Kevin Walker replacing Camon as writer.
The Killer premiered at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2023. It received a limited theatrical release on October 27, 2023; it began streaming on Netflix on November 10, 2023. The film received positive reviews from critics.
An unnamed skillful professional assassin (credited as “The Killer”) stakes out a Parisian hotel room. He prepares to use a sniper rifle to kill a target who will check into the hotel room at an unspecified time. While waiting for the target over a week, he eats, practices yoga, listens to The Smiths, and talks on the phone with his handler, an attorney and his former university law professor, Edward “Eddie” Hodges. The Killer narrates these activities, stressing the mantra of his rules and the routine—even boring—nature of his job and how his cynicism and lack of empathy are beneficial for his chosen occupation, all while growing increasingly sleep-deprived. The target eventually arrives in the company of a dominatrix. The Killer misses his target, accidentally shooting the dominatrix. He flees, successfully evading the police, and flies to the United States under one of numerous fake identities.
The Killer returns to his lavish compound in the Dominican Republic to find it has been broken into and his romantic partner Magdala has been attacked. The Killer finds her sedated in a hospital and her brother Marcus watching over her. He learns Magdala was tortured but managed to escape the assassins, who fled in a taxi. He tracks down the taxi driver, Leo, who drove the assassins to the Killer’s home. Leo identifies a man with an injured leg, whom he called “The Brute”, and a woman who “resembled a Q-Tip”. The Killer impulsively shoots and kills Leo, leaving his body in his taxi, and, breaking his “No Empathy” rule, seeks to track down the other assassins.
The Killer travels to Hodges’ office in New Orleans, Louisiana, and gains entry to the building disguised as a custodial worker. He restrains Hodges’ secretary and fellow handler Dolores, destroying the electronic records of their work together. As Hodges attempts to deescalate the situation, The Killer shoots him in the chest with a nail gun in an attempt to torture the names of the hitmen out of him, but Hodges dies more quickly than The Killer anticipated, aspirating his own blood. Dolores offers to show The Killer the assassins’ identities in her personal paper files in her home, asking in return that The Killer give her a quick and non-suspicious death so her children can claim her estate via life insurance; after receiving the names at her home, The Killer breaks her neck and she falls down her flight of stairs.
The Killer drives to St. Petersburg, Florida, identifying The Brute by his limp. After drugging his pit-bull, The Killer enters his house to kill him, only to be tackled and have to engage in a lengthy fight with the assassin, before shooting him and fleeing from his reawakened dog, burning down his home with a Molotov cocktail.
The Killer travels to Beacon, New York, where he confronts The Expert “Q-Tip” assassin in a gourmet restaurant. Appearing to accept her fate, The Expert questions The Killer’s motivations in continuing and lessening competency at his profession, as they partake in her “last supper” of whiskey. Proceeding outside to the park, he shoots her dead after she trips and asks for a hand, before noticing her concealed knife.
The Killer finally travels to Chicago, where the client, billionaire venture capitalist Henderson “Clay” Claybourne, lives in an upscale penthouse. The Killer transfers the entirety of his finances to the Dominican Republic under the name Jefferson and observes Claybourne’s routine, using inexpensive tools purchased on Amazon to clone his keycard and circumvent building security. The Killer confronts Claybourne at gunpoint in his penthouse, asking him if he ordered the retaliatory hit out of personal grievance. Claybourne claims that he has no personal problem with him and, as a first-time client of a hitman, agreed to pay Hodges for “the trail to be scrubbed”. Noting his general indifference and having had no specific idea in mind as to why an assassin would come after him, The Killer spares Claybourne, though promising him a “slow death” if Claybourne ever comes for him.
Later, The Killer returns to the Dominican Republic and settles into retirement with a recovering Magdala.
- Michael Fassbender as The Killer, a professional assassin
- Tilda Swinton as The Expert, a fellow assassin living in New York
- Charles Parnell as The Lawyer, Hodges, the Killer’s handler posing as a lawyer
- Arliss Howard as The Client, Claybourne, a billionaire businessman
- Kerry O’Malley as Dolores, an office administrator working for Hodges
- Sophie Charlotte as Magdala, the Killer’s girlfriend
- Emiliano Pernía as Marcus, Magdala’s brother
- Gabriel Polanco as Leo, a taxi driver
- Sala Baker as The Brute, an assassin who lives in Florida
- Monique Ganderton as The Dominatrix
- Daran Norris as Deep South Lounge greeter
- Jack Kesy as Salesman
In February 2023, it was reported that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were composing for the film. It was confirmed in September 2023 that the soundtrack would mainly feature songs from English rock band the Smiths.
The Killer premiered in-competition at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2023. It was picked up for a surprise screening at the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival set for September 30, 2023. It was also screened at the 28th Busan International Film Festival in the “Icon” section on October 6, 2023.
The film began a limited theatrical release on October 27, 2023, via Netflix, before streaming on the platform on November 10, 2023.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 85% of 250 critics’ reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The website’s consensus reads: “The Killer finds director David Fincher on firm footing with a stylish and engaging thriller that proves a perfect match for leading man Michael Fassbender.” Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 73 out of 100, based on 58 critics, indicating “generally favorable” reviews.
Terming it a “horribly addictive samurai procedural,” Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote that the film is “entertainingly absurd and yet the pure conviction and deadpan focus that Fassbender and Fincher bring to this ballet of anonymous professionalism makes it very enjoyable.” IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio found it “as unfeeling as any Fincher thriller, at once predictable in its simplicity but also strangely daring because of it”.
The New York Times was less positive, with Manohla Dargis unmoved by character and plot but nonetheless impressed by the talents of Fincher and Fassbender. “The character is boring and so is this movie, but like the supremely skilled Fincher, who can’t help but make images that hold your gaze even as your mind wanders, Fassbender does keep you watching.”
The film has drawn comparisons to the 1967 film Le Samouraï.
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