What happens when an assassin with a perfect record finally misses? The ensuing chaos drives director David Fincher’s riveting “The Killer,” anchored by Michael Fassbender, whose constant narration cleverly transforms the job of carrying out contract killings from one of glamor and intrigue to deadly drudgery.
Working from a French graphic novel, Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker (reuniting after their early masterpiece “Se7en”) establish the boredom associated with waiting around for the ideal moment to murder somebody – especially on “Annie Oakley jobs” – eating fast food and killing time even in an international metropolis. Think “The Accidental Tourist,” just armed with a silencer.
“I am what I am,” Fassbender’s nameless character muses near the outset, crediting Popeye for the thought. “I’m not exceptional.”
Actually, he is exceptionally good at his work, which makes his misfire, after all that meticulous planning, particularly shocking, while suddenly changing his status from predator to prey. Seen as a loose end by the people who employ him, the nameless killer must go on the run before turning the tables, recognizing that the best defense is a good offense.
Fassbender’s character flits around the globe in the process, passing around fake passports with an amusing assortment of classic-TV names as aliases. He also has a series of encounters with several good actors – Tilda Swinton and Arliss Howard among them – as well as one hand-to-hand fight scene that, throwing in the planning that precedes it, comes close to qualifying as an instant classic, while demonstrating new uses for several household appliances.
Few actors could bring as much quiet menace to this sort of minimally verbal role as Fassbender does, and Fincher moves the action along at a slow but steadily absorbing pace, maintaining a sense of unease even when not much is happening.
Landing on Netflix after a fleeting theatrical run, “The Killer” has an old-fashioned feel and still manages to nail its target by bringing dashes of freshness, wit and unpredictability to this well-worn genre.
Premiering in the midst of Netflix’s year-end push of movies with loftier ambitions in terms of garnering awards attention, it’s nevertheless likely to enjoy a long run on the service’s most-viewed items and “you might like” tiers. While that might not be exceptional, like the man said, “The Killer” is what is, and almost exactly what it should be.
“The Killer” premieres November 10 on Netflix. It’s rated R.