“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.
“Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… For tonight, we dine in hell!”
Fittingly nominated for QuickView #300, Zack Snyder’s sophmore feature marked the first of many comicbook-inspired movies and remains arguably his best. 300 is less a film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel than a translation — Snyder would develop a range of visual techniques to emulate the source material, including its dichromatic palette of red and gold, shot almost entirely on digital backlot with only two practical sets. Even Snyder’s trademark overuse of slow-motion seems fitting here, where he is literally recreating panels of Miller’s art. Although based on the Battle of Thermopylae, this is overtly fantasy rather than history, narrated by a Spartan soldier with the purpose of mythologising events. This explains the one-sided perspective that garnered criticism for painting the Persians as barbaric mystics (often monstrously disfigured) whilst the Greeks are styled as the discliplined defenders of rationality and freedom (conveniently ignoring that Sparta was built upon a slave class that is never shown). The cast is filled with character actors able to bring stage skills to empty digital backlot sets; though many are now household names, most were not at the time immediately recognisable faces. 300‘s focus is not the reality of war but a pulse-pounding hypermasculine depiction of battle, cartoonish crimson sprays barely slowing its improbably muscular heroes, who are clad in little more than loincloths, capes, and more underlying homoeroticism than a Top Gun volleyball game. Like much of Zack Snyder’s work, 300 is undeniably style over substance but that is less of an issue here, where the source material was likewise unburdened by depth. When there is this much style, deployed creatively in ways we had never seen before, that can be satisfying in itself.
It is easy to write off cinematic violence perpetrated by children as nasty and exploitative, but here it serves purpose — with children as the aggressors there is no obvious desirable resolution once things spiral out of control. Feeding on middle class fears about hoodie-clad youth gangs, Eden Lake strips away the fantasy layer of a typical slasher, leaving a violent thriller that is all the more haunting for its stripped down simplicity. By avoiding the predictable route to catharsis James Watkins is able pose more searching questions about class conflict, how civilised communities share the same space and self-segregate, how small frictions can snowball, and where responsibility lies for managing situations, though he has no clear answers to offer. We experience the film through the eyes of a couple looking only for a quiet weekend away but we come to realise that their mere presence is a provocative act, however undeserving of the outcome. After a nerve-shredding 90 minutes that feels considerably longer, I found myself exhausted, drained and, filled with myriad thoughts, undeniably impressed.