“It’s amazing how physically exhausting it can be to do nothing.”
Fincher crime movies are almost a sub-genre of their own — we know how they will feel (isolated and tense) and how they will look (heavy shadows with single colour lighting). Adapted from a French graphic novel, The Killer opens intriguingly with Fassbender’s assassin trying to keep his mind occupied as he waits for a target in Paris. The initial half hour is effectively an extended voiceover monologue, peppered with some interesting references — he quotes Aleister Crowley, though not by name, and refers to sniper assassinations as “Annie Oakley jobs”. Fassbender embodies the character gamely, measured movements and psychologically intense, but he cannot make the writing seem profound (“if I’m effective it’s for one simple fact: I don’t give a fuck”). The voiceover continues as the film shifts into a slow revenge story, and one can see the influence of the Dexter series, though it lacks any of Dexter’s disturbed charm or poetry. The film’s somber tone rarely changes although, in a brief appearance late in the film, Tilda Swinton manages to instill some suspense during a confrontation. Its production may be slick, but The Killer is retreading very well-trodden ground and its grand insight is that hitmen are patient, can’t afford empathy, and live by a code. Who knew? If you want to spend two hours being told this, perhaps you too have the patience to be an assassin.
“This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies.”
Louis B. Mayer
With the freedom afforded by Netflix, Fincher explores 1930s Hollywood by painstakingly creating a black and white film that feels as though it might have been unearthed from that era. It is something of a niche endeavour but the results are remarkable. Structurally, it is less convoluted than it first appears, using the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s work on the screenplay for Citizen Kane as a vehicle for his reminiscing through a series of flashbacks about his experiences with the Hollywood figures who inspired the story. Gary Oldman’s larger than life characters have always been entertaining, but the nuanced roles he has chosen of late reveal his true depth as an actor — as Mank he is self-confident and witty but not always likeable, with alcoholism and a need to sound smart often eroding any self-restraint. Fincher’s focus is less on how Citizen Kane was written than the squalid nature of Hollywood as seen through Mank’s disillusioned eyes, with executives performing as much as actors to manipulate others, and the lies of the silver screen feeding into politics. What holds the film back is (in common with much of Fincher’s work) a lack of emotional weight to any of Mank’s relationships, all of which seem considered rather than felt, more in character for Welles than the erratic Mankiewicz.
“This is a maximum security prison, and you have no weapons of any kind?”
David Fincher may now command respect but he had to battle studio interference in his first film, stepping into an already embattled project with script rewrites whilst sets were already in construction. The 2003 Assembly Cut restores half an hour of character scenes demonstrating Fincher’s desire for a deeper film with parallel threads of isolation beyond the prison planet itself, through divisions of gender, criminality, intelligence, religion, and sanity. This outing is more akin to the atmospheric original, limiting the xenomorph’s screen time, than Cameron’s gung-ho sequel (albeit undermined by some shoddy CGI). The last act is a confused mess of an action sequence in a network of identical tunnels in which it is impossible to tell where any characters are in relation to one another. In extended form the film is not as bad as its reputation, but still worlds away from its predecessors.