In the opening moments of “The Killer,” Michael Fassbender’s unnamed titular character remarks that doing nothing can be remarkably exhausting.
In narration that will remain a constant throughout the latest film from director David Fincher, the man tells us that if you cannot handle boredom, the life of an assassin is not for you.
We watch as The Killer, having rented a WeWork office space in Paris that appears to be unfinished, sits blanketed next to a space heater and gazes out a window facing another building.
He listens to music. He practices yoga. He sleeps.
Boring, this is not.
Fincher’s latest film for Netflix — it’s in select theaters this week before landing on the streaming service on Nov. 10 — is an entrancing experience. This portrait of a meticulous murderer-for-hire is well-crafted and consuming, at least until a climactic scene that, at least upon first viewing, rings a bit false.
Fassbender is an example of smart casting, the star of “Steve Jobs” and “The Light Between Oceans” demanding your undivided attention through his character’s measured movements and musings.
The Killer centers his scope on people on the street below, and we wonder, if only briefly, if one of them may be his target. And despite a desire to go as unnoticed as possible, he goes out on the street himself in the guise of a German tourist. (No one wants to have anything to do with a German tourist, he informs us.)
Eventually, his patience is rewarded. The curtains across from him are pulled back, and he will have a shot at his mark. He assembles his elaborate long-range weapon, works to lower his heart rate to improve his accuracy and looks for the best opportunity.
He eventually pulls the trigger, an action that then sets him on a path of vengeance — a path that will be littered with terminations, some of them executed with extreme prejudice.
Based on the French comic book series of the same name by Alexis "Matz" Nolent, “The Killer” has been adapted for the screen by Andrew Kevin Walker. The latter is the writer of Fincher's acclaimed 1995 thriller, “Se7en,” and he contributed uncredited writing work on two of the director’s other films “The Game” (1997) and “Fight Club” (1999).
You certainly can quibble with a couple of script choices: the aforementioned late-game moment; and a prolific assassin, ever worried about being caught, leaving behind a trail of falsified forms of identification with TV character names such as Sam Malone, Lou Grant and George Jefferson. Nevertheless, the writing is strong overall.
The Killer repeatedly informs us — and seemingly is reminding himself — that he can’t afford to be empathetic. He must only pick battles he is being paid to fight. He believes there is no such thing as luck or karma.
As a work of fiction, he is (almost) completely believable.
While this is all but completely Fassbender’s movie, Charles Parnell (“Top Gun: Maverick”), as a New Orleans lawyer working in this world of assassins, and Arliss Howard (Fincher’s “Mank”), as the billionaire client who’d hired The Killer, make the most of their single scenes.
However, it is another actor who has worked with Fincher, Tilda Swinton (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), who makes the second biggest impact on the film, portraying another longtime assassin with whom The Killer engages late in the affair.
Fincher’s direction, as it often is, is excellent. In one nicely put-together scene after another, it is fascinating to watch The Killer work, the filmmaker peeling back the layers of his well-funded and greatly thought-out operation.
“The Killer” is perfectly paced, too, with some of the credit going to editor Kirk Baxter, who has repeatedly collaborated with Fincher.
And for a movie that isn’t as concerned with action as you might expect given its subject matter, “The Killer” does offer one excellently choreographed fight scene, between Fassbender’s character and a muscular Floridian known as The Brute (Sala Baker).
Does “The Killer” ultimately leave you wanting just a little more from it? Yes. Does it reside in the rarefied air of the aforementioned films “Se7en” and “Fight Club”? No.
It nonetheless is Fincher — and Fassbender — in fine form.
3 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for strong violence, language and brief sexuality)
Running time: 1:58
How to watch: In theaters Friday and streaming on Netflix Nov. 10
©2023 The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio). Visit The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) at www.news-herald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.