Even in a year when we've seen plenty of three-hour epics, no mainstream movie requires as much patience as David Fincher's The Killer. A film about a hitman on the run after a job gone wrong promises lots of thrilling action. But while there are some standout scenes of violence, the film is all about waiting to strike.
Michael Fassbender's nameless assassin tells us as much in the opening narration. He's perched in a derelict WeWork, on the fifth day of waiting for his target to arrive at the luxury hotel across the street. He passes the time doing yoga, listening to the Smiths and trying to sleep. But when the moment arrives, a split-second error in judgment results in the wrong person dying. After barely making it out of Paris, he knows it's only a matter of time before his past will catch up with him.
The Killer's revenge mission proceeds methodically, even while the rules he repeats to himself get broken over and over. He can't help but take personally the known consequences of his failure. This clouds his judgment, causing him to take risks he would have avoided as a professional. While technically savvy, he's forced to deal with old-school security like physical files, CCTV and guard dogs. Pushing ahead seems straightforward, but a late scene with a colleague (Tilda Swinton) reveals his motivations are murkier than even he understands.
Viewers expecting something as frenetic as John Wick are bound to be disappointed. The body count is much lower, and Fincher takes an almost perverse joy in repetitious scenes of his lead showering, assembling his weapon and checking in under an alias. But I had a big smile on my face during most of these moments, and not just because his pseudonyms are all sitcom characters from the '70s and '80s. There's real pleasure in watching a character who's extremely good at his job, but constantly facing new challenges.
A slow movie punctuated by bursts of excitement, The Killer certainly won't blow everyone away. But for those of us who love Fincher's obsessive characters, dry humor and icy detachment, it's right on target.