The only life path is the one behind you.
Planning and execution. Patience. Silence. Observation. Compartmentalization. No remorse. No time for failure. Reflection is a flaw. There is only the next moment. The only way to succeed is to prepare for every possible eventuality. Life lived on a razor-thin contingency. Rigorous dedication to perfectionism will always be rewarded even in the event of a slip. It’s one in a million but it must be accounted for. Back to the start. Planning and execution. Compartmentalize in overdrive. Tie up every loose end. Move with authority. This is what it takes.
“Forbid empathy.” Maybe David Fincher’s mantra of logistical precision even more so than his protagonist’s, The Killer is a brilliantly executed stroke of formalist structural elegance applied to a foundation of pulpy technothriller schlock. Ruled by an ice-cold sociopathic atmosphere of complete emotional control and an unyielding mode of concentrated meticulous procedure, every moment is a clinical exercise in the technical execution of cinema. The overcranked procedural minutia is Fincher fine-tuning his brand of precision engineering through the lens of glossy, retooled B-movie energy. A metronomically simplistic protagonist who lives and dies by a flatly stated moral code of ruthless clockwork bloodshed while the entire world conspires to drive him outside of his cleanly drawn lines.
Fincher is not interested in emotional context. Immediately dropping into a cold, drafty, abandoned WeWork office space, the title character (Michael Fassbender) methodically cases the block from his window. Flatly narrating the precise nature of his methodology and his complete detachment from the world around him, the frigid atmosphere and complete emotional wall between viewer and character are only rivaled by the introduction of Mark as a dismissive, misogynistic asshole in The Social Network (2010). The Killer is a Fincher protagonist dialed to 11, a disaffected and ruthlessly violent caricature of an alpha male who views the world as a series of binary transactional moments. In a world ruled by digital processes and a decreasing interest in the observation of reality, Fincher leverages this nightmarishly insufferable archetype into a dry and cynically self-reflexive sense of humor, constantly poking at our crumbling technosphere of digital interfacing and gig economy reliance.
The digital landscape is more disposable than ever, so overly consumed by an infinitely interlacing web of checks that it takes shockingly little effort to turn it all into a series of cascading, Machiavellian death knells. Every window, every screen, every action, every step is part of a towering corporate ladder incapable of noticing any intelligently executed abuse of its system. Abandoned office spaces to work. Faceless screens to order food. Cloud-connected Vespas to get away. Automated storage facilities to store weaponry. Access to anything can be purchased – or at the very least these modern conveniences can be leveraged into abusing the gaps the last few vestiges of human connection necessitate. Nobody is looking at you, only reading the digits on your credit card or the name on your passport. The details could be anything – as long as they’re present enough to pass pattern recognition while an easily manipulated algorithm determines your face can step through customs. These actions have become so simplistic and rote for the killer that they are almost without thought. When the business of death becomes little more than mundanity on autopilot, overcorrection in the case of a fatal mistake is the only way through.
After an extended and brilliantly tense opening of a botched hit, the film is a full-on adrenaline rush, out-of-control spiral as the killer cranks into overdrive for a string of revenge killings to clean up the mess left by his mistake. Less interested in any of the grisly brutality of death than it is interested in every clockwork point plotting to the disparate finality of it all, nearly the entire film exists within the killer’s head, delivered in a single tone, a deterministic affect through Fassbender’s narration. From the cold, crisp morning air of Paris to the tropical haze of the Dominican Republic or the swampy fog of Florida, Erik Messerschmidt wields Fincher’s digital gaze with powerful clarity. Driven by more phenomenal collaboration with discordant synth masterminds Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film thuds with rapid metronomic fury alongside a stunning technoindustrial score, matched only by the killer’s obsession with his wall-to-wall “Work Playlist” of The Smiths. The Killer is Fincher operating at maximum capacity on fundamentally cheap, pulpy thrills, and it’s some of the most deliriously and violently delightful work he’s ever done. It’s not the apocalyptic vision of the onset of a new, interconnected age. It’s not a destructive portrait of caustic, deteriorating relationships. It’s not a clinical examination of a feverish obsession with bloodshed. It’s a stone-cold professional executing every necessary piece of precision perfection and then basking in the glory of his ability, even when the inevitable eventuality of a misstep strikes. Fincher is a stone-cold professional – and this is what it takes.