From Fight Club to The Social Network, David Fincher’s meticulous filmmaking has quickly established him as one of the most masterful auteurs working in Hollywood—and a crowd-pleaser, to boot. His latest film, The Killer (partially shot in the Chicago area), sees his propensity for specificity collide with his more violent sensibilities—one part character study, one part action-thriller. Though his eye for detail is as sharp as ever, The Killer’s slick, measured style can’t quite make up for the frustrating lack of narrative urgency, and the end result is a film that’s more tepid than tense.
Starring Michael Fassbender, The Killer follows an ill-fated few days in the life of a methodical, stone-cold assassin. After the normally calm, cool, and collected Killer (Fassbender) botches a job, and his employer retaliates by threatening what’s closest to him, he embarks on an international hunt to track down and eliminate his most dangerous peers. Structurally, The Killer operates like an intensely detail-oriented slice-of-life story: it devotes a significant chunk of its runtime to following the Killer’s habitual pre-kill routine, which includes yoga, McDonald’s, and a healthy dose of music from the Smiths.
A day-in-the-life film about a paradoxically emotionless yet eclectic killer sounds like an enticing premise, especially with Fincher at the helm, but the killer’s unflappable attitude seeps into the tone of the film itself, rendering it remarkably limp. As he jets from country to country, each segmented interlude feels less like a purposeful step and more like an errand to be completed so the real story can start. Certainly, some of the segments do bring the requisite intrigue and violence. Tilda Swinton graces the third act to give Fassbender a much-needed verbal sparring partner, while a Florida-set action scene (borrowing a few queues from Home Alone) makes for a pulse-bounding fight sequence.
But while these highlights are engrossing, they’re exceptions to an otherwise monotonous film that too often substitutes style for story. Despite a measured performance from Fassbender and a clear vision/understanding of world-building in Fincher’s approach to visual storytelling, The Killer lacks any kind of teeth—it’s a sterile, sluggish film in dire need of an adrenaline injection. R, 118 min.