How to evaluate the movie Killer directed by David Fincher?

Recent Movie Experience and Review of “The Hitman”

I once had a drink with a Khampa Tibetan monk, who was very talkative. We chatted for almost an entire afternoon, and basically he did most of the talking while I listened. The topics of conversation were varied, but there was one part that left a deep impression on me. He asked me, “Have you ever been stabbed in a fight?” I shook my head, and he continued, “After being stabbed and losing a lot of blood, I didn’t feel angry or scared. I just felt that my strength quickly drained from my body, then I became colder and my whole body went limp.”

The film “The Hitman,” directed by David Fincher, gave me a sense of being close to a hitman, as if I had experienced being a hitman myself, just like hearing the experience narrated by that Tibetan monk. The physical sensation of bleeding seemed to be my own. While watching this film, I never felt bored or sleepy. I followed the hitman’s every move and thought about whether I could become a true expert, a competent, or even a top-notch hitman.

Meticulous planning, accompanied by loneliness, like a hermit in practice, keeping a close eye on the target, sleeping directly on the table so as not to fall into a deep sleep, leaving no clues, no impulsive actions, and reminding oneself, “Stick to the plan, don’t improvise, never trust anyone.”

The hitman’s self-talk, the hitman’s constant self-reminders, all guided me and brought me into this role, experiencing the tension he felt, constantly forcing myself to remain calm and rational.

Most experts remain calm under danger, and hitmen are no exception. However, hitmen can also have an accelerated heartbeat and panic. They also have to remind themselves not to be as foolish as John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln and was tripped by a national flag during the escape.

When the assassination mission fails, the hitman feels panicked, which is unprecedented. But he still quickly escapes according to the pre-planned route, while joking and mocking himself, reminding himself not to get caught in panic, otherwise he would be as foolish as John Wilkes Booth.

In the first twenty minutes of the film directed by David Fincher, David Shaw (Michael Fassbender) prepares in an orderly manner. He calmly observes every move and hardly changes his expression. Practicing yoga and self-discipline seem to foreshadow a perfect assassination that is about to take place, but who knows, the hitman fails.

The hitman feels no remorse at all. He forces himself to remain calm and not to overthink. After washing his hands and face with a cleansing solution, he arrives at the airport and quickly leaves France, far away from danger.

What would happen if he panicked during his escape?

A small mistake is enough to ruin everything. For example, when he is about to check in and board the plane, he notices a drug detection dog. If the gunpowder smell from his hand is detected by the police dog, it would be disastrous.

He decisively turns around and leaves, goes back to the restroom to wash up again, destroys the phone and SIM card used earlier, and uses a new phone to purchase a flight to a different destination, ensuring a safe boarding.

Even on the plane, he dares not relax. He is like a vigilant hawk, as a hitman must be the hunter, not the prey.

Upon returning to his home in a foreign land, he finds his wife severely injured and hospitalized.

Luckily, the people sent by the enemy are not professionals, maybe just thugs instead of hitmen. If it were a hitman similar to himself, they would never have failed. However, it is enough to anger him.

So the hitman arranges everything for his wife and sets off again. He is determined to eliminate everyone who threatens him and his family.

Next, we will witness whether the hitman is a fake or a true top-notch hitman.

The hitman repeatedly recites his creed and begins his revenge.

“Never trust anyone.”

“Sympathy is weakness.”

“Weakness is a vulnerability”…

These past few days, I have seen many people saying that the great director, David Fincher, crashed this time. When the film “The Hitman” was released, there was loud snoring in the cinema. This film is particularly hypnotic, and the plot completely deviates from expectations. It seems that the great director has made a bad film.

After watching it, I think “The Hitman” is great. Especially after recently watching several mediocre and boring Netflix movies and animations, finally, there is a film, also directed by David Fincher from Netflix, that is refreshing.

“The Hitman” is an anti-big production, anti-explosive and anti-John Wick, anti-action film, and anti-routine work. “The Hitman” only exposes the unglamorous side of a hidden occupation. Being a hitman is very meticulous, very dangerous, and more importantly, very boring!

David Fincher takes us truly into the inner world of a hitman, sharing his excitement and boredom, his inner talkativeness. He constantly reminds himself of what he should do, not to cross the line, not to act impulsively, but he still makes mistakes. He apologizes for his mistakes, acknowledges the sudden unforeseen events, and expresses regret. But for you idiots who doubt my professionalism, taste my true expertise! The hitman seeks revenge and eliminates all intermediaries, except the final client. This is what an expert is, this is a true hitman. This is called professionalism. This is what a truly satisfying action film should be like.

It is simple to follow the existing Hollywood model to make an above-average action film. David Fincher understands that it is difficult to abandon the existing formula and requires courage, as the pressure will be enormous. Deviating from the formula for success means there might be box office failure or damage to the reputation of a renowned director. I think “The Hitman” is very unique. Michael Fassbender’s performance is excellent and perfectly fits the character of a hitman. The scene where Tilda Swinton drinks and finds a way to fight back and escape is also brilliant. It’s great, and I can’t help but want to applaud!

David Fincher’s “The Hitman” did not fail, it is just different from the thrilling action films we are familiar with. A friend on Douban accurately summed it up, “Those who like it will really like it, and those who dislike it will really dislike it.”

I am one of the audience members who liked it.

Characteristics of David Fincher’s Film Style

Industrial Metal + “The Killer” + David Fincher =?

(Long article warning)

Friday’s Words: Industrial Metal is simply a matter of tone and rhythm for rock fans. But when it appears as a cultural concept, it’s not that simple anymore. Think about the difference between Metallica (metal band) and Rage Against the Machine. The former starts from the internal thoughts of people, like a hymn, while the latter focuses on external behavior and emphasizes social issues. The nature of the two is completely different.

When industrial technology-flavored social rock reaches Primus or Nine Inch Nails, it has already permeated into the instrumental music (the former is more playful, the latter is more mechanical). Or you could say that their music itself has a side that presents and criticizes industrial society. I think this is one of the reasons why director David Fincher has always worked with Trent Reznor (Note: Trent Reznor is the founder of Nine Inch Nails and also the composer for most of David Fincher’s films). Obviously, the cold, mechanical, and electronically metallic music is compatible with the visual sensation required by David Fincher’s films. This first warns us that if we expect to derive the pleasure of the story solely from Fincher’s films, we will mostly be disappointed, because he is an absolute player who emphasizes visual and auditory experiences. In addition, he is a director who is good at externalizing (or socializing), and quantifying internal motivations (psychology) into behavior (this concept is theoretically presented in the American TV series “Mindhunter”).

Therefore, David Fincher will never represent issues in an abstract way like surrealistic directors. With this understanding, let’s take a look at this recently released highly personalized film “The Killer” (2023). (Note: Images in the article, if not annotated, are all from the film “The Killer”)

Text: Taixu Palace, Editor: Mr. Friday, Images: Internet

1. Color, Color Blocks, and Color Tone

Take a look at the following set of movie stills -

Without thinking, can you instinctively feel the contrast between coldness and warmth, brightness and darkness? And when the characters are caught between them, can you feel the conflict? If you can feel it, then David Fincher’s signature color tone is at work. This color tone, to be precise, is created by the combination of blue-green, red-yellow color blocks, and black-white contrasts. And in order to achieve this color tone, the director spares no effort to use everything that can be used, from costumes, streetlights, flickering screens, to wet ground, misty filters, and even the actors' skin color.

▲ “Se7en”, 1995 Of course, the props in the film are mainly metallic objects and electronic products, such as the skin of a car, a pistol, electronic doors, and hardware products. The reflection of these objects under light further caters to the cold, mechanical, and dark tones.

  • It must be emphasized again: all colors in David Fincher’s films are presented independently in blocks, which creates a certain dramatic conflict. And these contrasting color blocks are dominated by cool colors (typically, blue-green-black surrounds red-yellow-white), creating an overall effect of blackness, darkness, alienation, and estrangement.

▲ “The Social Network”, 2010 The color effects also correspond to the personalities and psyches of the characters, which is what I call the quantification of internal to external. This presentation style runs through almost all of David Fincher’s films.

▲ “Mindhunter Season 1”, 2017 Of course, this director is not satisfied with just presentation, he also pursues “performance”, which is mainly reflected in the editing rhythm of the film, which is another major feature of his films.

2. Music, Rhythm, and MV

Fenchi-style film scores, like twin sisters, play a similar role to the film as a whole. It refers to the original soundtrack that creates a cold, mechanical, and dark atmosphere with the taste of industrial metal and electronic metal. However, that’s not enough. Music also needs to synchronize with the characters' actions, voice-overs, and plot to achieve a smooth effect. David Fincher, who comes from directing music videos, is extremely skilled at achieving this kind of fluency, even to the precision of a band rehearsal. Let’s take an example: in the movie “The Killer,” there is a scene where the hitman attempts to break through the security door to enter the lawyer’s room… Under this motivating trend, he needs to complete a series of actions: firstly, he follows the messenger out of the elevator and watches him enter the security door; secondly, he measures the time it takes for the security door to automatically close; thirdly, he waits for the messenger to leave the room and enter the elevator after the door opens again; finally, he kidnaps before the door closes.

Appreciate the rhythm and fluency of this scene, and you will find that the director has captured it magnificently, just like an MV. It starts from the opening of the elevator door, accompanied by music (a combination of electronic drums, electronic vocals, and electronic strings). The character starts moving and timing to the beat. Then, a series of shots are edited together, from the character pretending to drink water to peeping into the room. It all culminates in him entering the room, followed by the door “clicking” shut… All of this, the visuals, sound, editing, plot, character psychology, and actors' movements, are synchronously smooth, to the extent that even a line or two of a character’s off-screen dialogue is said in time with the music, like a guitar flourish. These MV-like plot segments in the movie form a pure sense of enjoyment beyond the storyline. Not only in “The Killer,” even in “The Social Network” which is more language-driven, or “Gone Girl” which focuses on family ethics, or even the political drama “House of Cards,” the “MV-style editing” in Fincher’s films brings about a viewing experience that is no less than the plot itself. In my previous articles, I proposed the concept of “New Hollywood Films,” and naturally, I believe that Fincher’s films, to a certain extent, have led this trend. After exploring the visual and auditory aspects, let’s now turn our attention back to the story.

Section 3: A Counter-Narrative Crafted from Behind-the-Scenes and Outtakes

Compared to the cutting-edge visuals and auditory appeal, the storytelling in Fincher’s films does not have the upper hand in mainstream Hollywood genres. Although to some extent they inherit the framework of film noir, detective stories, and crime films, watching his films is not as satisfying as watching those orthodox crime suspense films. Even though Fincher himself is not lacking mainstream screenwriters. Of course, he is not incapable of making those things, but rather he wants to take the story to another level. What level is that? Let’s take a look - typically, action films are complete “battles,” where the film as a whole starts with the characters receiving a mission and ends when the mission is completed. Not only is this the case for movies like “Mission: Impossible” and the “Die Hard” series, but also for classic film noir detective movies, as well as European-style assassin films like “You Were Never Really Here.” However, in the film “The Professional,” the protagonist’s assassination mission fails right from the beginning! The story that unfolds afterwards completely deviates from the principle of a “battle” - it isn’t even considered “revenge.” The assassin merely acts according to his professional principles, attempting to uncover the mastermind behind his failed mission and mitigate the negative effects. (Note: After the assassin learns of his family’s murder, he does not act impulsively, and moreover, he repeatedly warns himself not to act recklessly according to his professional principles. This is enough to prove that the subsequent actions are not about revenge, but rather about neutralizing the danger, just like a bomb disposal expert.)

So, it’s neither a “Mission: Impossible” type of completing an “impossible mission” to satisfy the audience’s heroism dreams, nor a revenge-driven violent aesthetics like “Kill Bill,” nor a morality and redemption theme like “Léon: The Professional.” What else can this film “The Professional” offer? What can the audience relate to?

I think what remains is the behind-the-scenes life of this assassin - apart from receiving missions and rewards, he also has to clean up the mess left behind after completing a mission, such as destroying evidence and removing fingerprints. After a failed mission, he has to assess the consequences and take risks, such as when his family is implicated or when he is silenced by his employer and so on. In order to eliminate potential risks, he also needs to remain calm and devoid of emotions when contacting his higher-ups…

All these elements are considered mere outtakes by mainstream genre film directors, but they are precisely what string together the narrative of “The Professional.” (I believe this is also one of the reasons why some people don’t appreciate this film.) As for why the director and screenwriter chose to construct the story in this way, I think there are two reasons: *First, only by avoiding those dramatic elements can the audience truly focus on the details of the “assassin” profession. *Second, only by doing so can the social background, living environment, and inner world of this profession be truly showcased. Therefore, we can say that “The Professional” is a film that focuses on the “assassin” profession itself, with a story filled with trivial matters and mixed with poetic inner monologues. It goes against the narrative structure of mainstream genre films. However, even so, we still have to say that the story framework of this film does not deviate from the “battle” trope; it is only a departure in terms of content. Thus, we cannot say it is a “counter-narrative.” We can only call it a “non-typical genre film.”

4. David Fincher’s Film Philosophy

The various elements mentioned above constitute David Fincher’s film style. Personally, I believe that the film “Se7en” does not deviate from the director’s typical style. Behind these styles, there are also certain philosophical views of the director. I will summarize them as follows:

1. Critique of Reality through Color

Evidently, the environment presented in color, as well as the characters and props, have all become objects of criticism along with those gloomy tones. We can regard these things as embodiments of modern society, modern industry, modern technological products, and even modern interpersonal relationships. It can be said that the alienation of these things assists in the occurrence of criminal phenomena. The film tone, formed by the author’s critical motive, is precisely what some viewers who are accustomed to bright and positive films, and even exhilarating hero films, find unbearable.

2. Sociality and Psychological Quantification

The external sociality of Fincher’s films is beyond doubt. He will not step into the realm of mysticism, and I believe he would not even film something like “Stephen King”. All the evils captured by his camera will eventually be manifested through social crimes or abnormal personalities and behaviors. All internal and external phenomena will to a greater or lesser extent receive theoretical explanations. Even though he is also fond of psychological description, in the end, it will always be connected to real behavior, quantified, just like the voiceover of the characters in “Se7en”, which ultimately corresponds to the actions of the characters. Side note: Is the essence of film “sociality” then? After all, it is produced using electronic technology tools, and after all, it is a visual flow constructed by actions and props. I believe this question requires continuous contemplation.

3. Coexistence of Darkness, Professionalism, and Avant-garde

David Fincher’s films originate from classic film noir, with darkness and crime being his consistent style, without a doubt. Moreover, in terms of content selection, he is constantly exploring new territories, from economic crimes to political crimes, from society and campuses to media, from the lower class to academic elites… This makes his works appear more “professional” and even academic, at least proving that he is constantly exposed to fresh fields, a new generation of criminality, and a generation that has become alienated.

In addition, his pursuit of visual and auditory effects and his experience in filmmaking all determine the characteristics of his films: the coexistence of darkness, professionalism, and avant-garde.

4. Film Criticism Thinking

There is a scene at the beginning of the movie: a killer hiding in a room peeks out of the window. Let’s take a look at the director’s handling technique in this scene: first, there is a contrast between the voyeur and the one being watched, creating a sharp contrast between the loneliness inside the house and the poetry outside in the visuals.

Now let’s focus on the director’s choice of music editing to complement this contrast. When the camera cuts to the scenery seen by the voyeur outside the window, the original background music is added (we call this a subjective shot, where what the character sees and hears is what the audience sees and hears). When the camera cuts back to the watcher inside the house, the music retreats into the watcher’s headphones, the volume decreases, becoming nothing more than a prop sound. Note: this is rarely seen in mainstream movies - usually directors use prop sounds to transition and directly transform them into background music, imposing a certain emotional awareness on the audience until the scene is finished, without interrupting the background music midway, or at least not changing the music so abruptly. Because such a transition would break the immersion for the audience, making them aware that the “poetry” in the movie is imposed on them by the director. It’s like having a character talk directly to the screen, the audience immediately becomes aware of the presence of the camera. *Off-topic: I remember two directors doing this in their movies (such music editing): Godard in “Breathless” (a dancing scene in a bar) and Liu Zhenwei in “A Chinese Ghost Story” (a scene with ghost catching and playing a tape recorder at home). I won’t go into detail here, but you can watch them separately and compare their effects. Obviously, the approach used at the beginning of “Léon: The Professional” breaks the poetic portrayal of the assassin profession within the confines of the movie frame, separating what should have been a cohesive assassination scene into two isolated spaces. It makes you realize that characters like “Léon”, Agent Bond, and Detective Sherlock only exist under the magic of movies, they are created and not real. This is a type of film criticism thinking that allows you to step outside the story and observe or overlook the entire work while watching a movie.

Five, Seeing What You Want to See or Seeing What the Director Wants to Express

To conclude, let’s return to the story itself and compare two screenshots of the beginning and the end of the film.

I know that many viewers may find the ending of this film absurd, and consequently consider the entire film to be absurd as well. After all, our killer has gone through all the obstacles and killed all the necessary targets, only to let the big boss go in the end, reminding him before leaving, “Your security is lousy.” Now, please take a look at the two images above and rethink the protagonist’s motivations throughout the story. Was it for revenge? Was it to complete a mission? Obviously, neither is the case. As we mentioned earlier, he only had one motivation, which was to eliminate danger and return to safety and tranquility with his family. In addition, think about those few sentences that the protagonist kept reminding himself of: “Follow the plan, sympathy is a weakness, don’t trust anyone…” If we continue to think along these lines, perhaps some of the director’s plot settings and the conflicting psychological states of the characters will make sense. Perhaps we can also see more beyond the story of the film.

This leads to another question worth discussing: When we watch a movie, do we really want to see what we want to see, or do we want to see what the creator wants to express? What do you think…

The movie “The Killer” is so brutally endless in its voice-over narration.

Pseudo-cinephile Discriminator

During the film festival screening, David Fincher saw a group of pseudo-cinephiles actually applauding this incredibly awful film, which made him embarrassed and left.

In the film industry, there are also a bunch of directors and celebrities who, with a clear conscience, give positive reviews and recommendations, just like a blatant imitation of Wong Kar-wai’s “The Ferryman”.

Fortunately, film critics are still rational. The Venice Review scores are not high, and it received no acclaim at the Venice Film Festival.

If this film can be praised, then M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water” should be vindicated. At least “Lady in the Water” is ten times better than this in terms of breaking the fourth wall.

Only by watching “Lady in the Water” do you realize that it is essentially about the different interpretations of the story by the audience, director, and creators. However, it fails due to its obscure and weak narrative, resulting in the majority of viewers only being able to see one interpretation of the story.

But in “The Killer,” the movie breaks the fourth wall in a brutal way right from the beginning, making it impossible for the audience to immerse themselves in the film.

This leads to the conclusion that this movie is neither experimental nor artistic, and fundamentally not even a film, similar to Ang Lee’s “Hulk” as a failed comic book adaptation.

PS: This film is adapted from the comic book of the same name by French cartoonist Alexis Nolent.

Ang Lee’s “Hulk” rigidly transplanted the comic book paneling into the film, but the technology at that time simply didn’t support the technical requirements of this kind of paneling, resulting in a very strange-looking film with chaotic cinematography and scene management, seriously affecting the viewer’s experience.

If Ang Lee’s “Hulk” had technical issues as a cover-up, then this film “The Killer” is completely inexplicable.

This kind of film that uses voice-overs and narration to influence the logical behavior of film characters has existed before. There are classic examples such as the 1948 film “Joan of Arc” starring Ingrid Bergman, and more recent examples like Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s 2015 film “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” Marguerite Duras' 1974 film “India Song,” Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville,” and Marc Forster’s “Stranger than Fiction.”

The contemporary director who likes to use this technique the most is Wes Anderson. In many of his films, the voice-over or narration is an independent character that interacts with the film characters and the audience, breaking the fourth wall. For example, his early film “The Royal Tenenbaums” and his recent film “The French Dispatch” employ this technique.

However, none of them are as brutally harsh, endless, boundless, and devoid of any interaction with the film’s plot or characters as “The Killer” is.

It is reasonable to suspect that David Fincher, after finishing the film, realized how awful it was and added a voice-over as an experimental film gimmick to deceive people. Unexpectedly, there were actually people who were fooled by it.

Fincher Films: Artistic Masterpieces of Perfectionism

I would give it a 7.3, as always with Fincher films.

The Killer represents Fincher’s personal aesthetic with its minimalistic plot.

What is most astonishing is the sound design and audiovisual effects. I can’t imagine how perfect it would be if this music design, which switches scenes with different headphone settings, were used in Fincher’s earlier film, “Tremor Space”.

Such sound design greatly increases the sense of being in the moment for the audience, immersing them in the protagonist’s inner world, as if experiencing a cinematic journey transcending dimensions.

To be precise, it’s like playing a narrative video game on a PS5, where the controller’s vibrations intensify your sense of immersion when shooting or driving, for example.

The first twenty minutes of the film are difficult to get into. The sound of waves itself has a hypnotic effect, combined with the atmospheric feel of the film, making one drowsy. It’s not until the failed shooting scene that the film slowly reaches its climax.

Fincher, as a former music video director, accomplishes something that most Hollywood directors can’t in terms of both visual and auditory aspects:


While maintaining excellent color grading, he masterfully controls the texture of the scenes, giving a sense of omniscience and omnipresence. Those familiar with Fincher films should absolutely love this sense of control.

His signature style includes a large number of zoom lenses, with extremely precise and almost demanding focus control. Lighting and overall color grading work together, creating the effect of truly watching an art masterpiece.

In terms of action scenes, the confined space of the entire house would have posed high limitations. However, Fincher manages to create a tremendous sense of immediacy within this small space. As a director who dislikes using handheld cameras, he employs unique techniques in the action scenes. The entire fight scene is full of dramatic tension, with the audience constantly immersed in the film’s intensity.

A comparable example would be the darkroom fight scene in “John Wick”. It also takes place in an indoor setting, and John Wick’s fight scenes are definitely not lacking in quality. However, when comparing the two, the difference becomes exceptionally clear.

Of course, one thing that must be criticized is the wasted time during the killer’s journey. If it weren’t a Fincher film, the audience might have easily lost interest and left.

The plot is as simple as it gets, yet it creates a sense of extreme menace and control. If we compare the director to a chef and the script to ingredients, Fincher, this Michelin-starred chef, seems to be proclaiming to the world: “Look, even with a rotten potato, I can create a masterpiece.”

The script is so mediocre that if it were directed by someone else, it probably wouldn’t even score above 5 on rating websites.

However, I still want to complain a bit:

The song you chose, Shark, makes it really hard to concentrate, my friend.

The Identity of the Killer and the Employment Relationship

It gives me a strong feeling of American internet dramas and a strong suspicion of rushing to finish homework after the holidays.

David Fincher’s suspenseful crime movies always have a unique charm, a exploration of the characters' inner selves beneath the suspenseful plot. So his tone can be tender, hostile, or even self-contradictory.

But in the movie “The Killer,” everything seems off. The story told in chapters is unnecessary because these events occur in chronological order, and the audience will not have any understanding or disagreement about the story. The overall impression I got from the movie is probably the yoga of Félix, the chattering of the killer, and a little discourse on the relationship between killing and hatred after finding the true employer.

I have to mention Félix’s maintenance capability.

Killers should be the favorite characters of crime movies. You can think of a series of classic killer characters on the screen. They are either perverse or cold, and sometimes even have a twisted sense of humor. Movies like “Leon: The Professional,” “No Man’s Land,” “Seven,” and the classic game “Hitman: Codename 47” all remind you of those “bad guys.”

So, the feeling “The Killer” gave me is that there are too many things the characters want to integrate or learn from, to the point where none of the layers are deep enough. When I see him fighting opponents with a significant power disparity, I feel like I’m watching John Wick; when he aims at the windows across the street with a gun, it reminds me of Jason Bourne. Killing for the main character is a job that requires professional belief, but unfortunately, we happen to witness him dragging behind this time.

Because he failed to kill someone, the main character has to kill six or seven people in succession, and may even get into trouble himself. It can be considered a chain reaction or an allergic reaction in the assassination industry chain, to eliminate potential trouble. Sometimes, the cause of killing is not due to hatred or a personal grudge. I don’t even know you, but getting rid of you is just an option, nothing more.

Speaking of which, it’s quite interesting. The main character is seeking revenge for his family, but who should he seek revenge against? The answer is obvious at first: everyone on that storyline must die, including the driver who unwittingly assisted the crime, his lawyer who is also his superior, the two actual killers, and the true employer behind the scenes. These people are all involved, but it seems like the main character himself doesn’t actually have a personal grudge against them. If there needs to be a confrontation face to face, I would like to ask a question on behalf of those dead supporting characters: Who the hell taught you to make mistakes? (Insert Samuel L. Jackson’s MF phrase here - it would be most appropriate)

Ironically, most of the characters that appear in the film have some kind of employment relationship, and employment relationships do not require emotion or trust based on personal relationships. Employment relationships are based on contractual spirit and performance systems. Taxi drivers take the money and simply take passengers to their desired destination; the superior who dispatches orders doesn’t have to deal with any conflicts, they just need to know the mission objectives and settle the payment; the killer doesn’t need to have any real interaction with the target, they just need to lock on, kill, and collect money; and the employer is even simpler, all I want is to spend money to hire someone to get rid of a person for me, whether this person is a competitor in my business, a political rival, someone who betrayed me, or whatever, it doesn’t matter.

When this employment system operates normally, everything is a business, a form of service or “labor” compensation, without the personal emotional factors mixed in. If there is something more disgusting, it would be the fact that the muscular killer was too ruthless and it’s infuriating. But in this seemingly stable network, the main character’s mistake has turned his own story into a fuse that burns all the way to the employer.

And it’s not until the main character pursues it to this level that he understands the root cause of the problem.

I don’t know who you are, but someone told me that it’s safer to get rid of you.

What deep grudges do those hired people have against themselves? It’s all because of money.


Rambling on about the externalized inner monologue is not necessarily a cool thing, instead what we see is a very unstable bomb exploding in chaos within the system. David Fincher will not be affected in his creative status by just one movie, but it’s clear that this movie cannot be called a masterpiece, and it falls far short of the audience’s expectations.

So, have you noticed? What we truly expect is not crime movies with famous names like Félix, Tilda Swinton, or David Fincher, but good stories told by David Fincher.

Self-Cultivation of a Killer

Since 2013, David Fincher has had a close relationship with Netflix. The latter’s groundbreaking “House of Cards” in the era of streaming media was set by Fincher. Since then, whether it’s the hit series “Mindhunter” or the nostalgic “Mank,” Fincher has produced them on a large scale with the support of his old home, Netflix.

It can be said that among the top Hollywood directors today, Fincher is most closely tied to streaming media. His new film, “The Killer,” is a suspenseful crime film directed by Fincher and released on Netflix. The film made its grand debut at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated in the main competition section.

“The Killer”

Ordinary viewers may not be enthusiastic about it, with an IMDb score of only 7.1 and a Rotten Tomatoes popcorn rating of 67%.

But in the eyes of professional film critics, it still maintains Fincher’s consistent visual standards, with a fresh rating of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, is “The Killer” an underestimated masterpiece? Or is it a misstep in Fincher’s career?

The Assassin

Perhaps what many people might not expect is that although this film is touted as a suspenseful action film and its title clearly implies “killer,” it is not a flashy action film like “Lethal Weapon” or a standard Hollywood blockbuster like “Mission: Impossible” or “Jason Bourne.”

The male protagonist, a constantly changing killer, tells us about his “work” daily life from the beginning of the film. His observations and evaluations of different cities in the morning, his innovative views on life and death; how to avoid being noticed by surveillance cameras? How to blend into the crowd without being discovered?

And of course, there is the long-term cultivation of sleep and psychology. Even minutes before pulling the trigger, the killer honestly explains how to maintain the best mindset.

The first 20 minutes of the film are almost all the inner monologue of the killer, as well as a series of surveillance, infiltration, and sniper operations when he carries out an assassination mission in Paris. Whether it’s the monologue or the action, it’s enough to be written into a guidebook called “Self-Cultivation of a Killer.”

But ironically, when he meticulously and thoroughly prepares to explain to us the philosophy and ethics, as well as the detailed rules of this “craft,” he ultimately fails!

This is the first twist in the film and also the first mission failure in the killer’s career. He must face risks and bear the consequences.

The film consists of seven chapters, including not only the failed assassination in the first part but also the revenge of the killer’s girlfriend being targeted, a series of revenge by the killer, and the plot of his eventual “retirement” to enjoy a good life.

The story is basically straightforward, and Fincher does not intend to construct a complex world of killings. Therefore, our full attention naturally falls on the killer played by Michael Fassbender.

Since the 2019 film “Dark Phoenix,” Fassbender has immersed himself in the world of racing, not making any film appearances for four years. “The Killer” not only marks his return to the big screen but also showcases a change in his acting style: upgrading from “elegantly pathological” to “elegant killing.”

To play this seemingly inconspicuous killer well, Fassbender spent ten weeks training in military and combat techniques, becoming adept at disassembling sniper rifles, and conducting meticulous research on real-life assassins.

In his own words, “I’m just trying to understand the mindset of a sociopath.” Perhaps that’s why, even though the plot of “The Killer” is monotonous, it still manages to captivate viewers.

The Killer’s Minimalist Retro Style

An interesting phenomenon is that “The Killer” has both a nostalgic and minimalist fashion trend. Its retro element lies in abandoning flashy and fake fights as well as the proliferation of suspenseful backgrounds.

The most exciting part of “The Killer” is not how the killer uses all his ingenuity to precisely set traps for his targets, like the assassination organization in Chung Park-wui’s “Cold Eyes.”

Fincher draws inspiration from Melville’s “Le Samourai,” with a simple plot that is disturbingly complex in character development.

The killer exercises surveillance in the unfinished house, finding pleasure in it, just like the killer played by Alain Delon observing the canary in “Le Samourai.”

Both have a face of abstinence, striving to be undisturbed by the world. Fincher uses rich audio-visual effects to continuously shape the killer’s “movement” and “stillness” of mental state.

For example, before shooting, the killer tries to lower his heart rate with music, and the camera constantly switches between subjective and objective perspectives, while the sound alternates between inner monologue and music by the ears.

In the assassination operation, every detail of wiping fingerprints and every method of handling evidence is precise and delicate. But when it comes to disposing of a corpse, the killer suddenly delivers a cold punchline: thoroughly cleaning up is hard physical work. To some extent, you can compare it to Jiro Ono’s attitude in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

In other words, Fincher uses precise and smooth shots and editing to turn every action of the killer into an art form, but at the same time, he casually throws out the grumbling and frustration of craftsmen to deconstruct the familiar image of secret agents and assassins.

But the male protagonist in “The Killer” is not just a talkative brainstormer; when he really gets his hands on, he is terrifying, much like the killer in the Coen Brothers' “No Country for Old Men.”

With a pale smile, he invites the target to come closer, then gently taps a high-pressure canister, and the target’s soul immediately disperses. Many people should remember the classic scene left by Javier Bardem’s killer in that film.

Fassbender’s portrayal of the killer is equally impressive. Whether shooting a nail with an air gun to block the target’s airway or shooting the target dead when they attempt to fight back, this killer’s ruthless methods resemble Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer,” aiming for simplicity and efficiency. But in the killer’s methods of overcoming obstacles, you can also clearly see the influence of the “John Wick” series.

The blending of styles does not turn “The Killer” into a hodgepodge but rather creates a unique entity. Through the profession of a killer, it reveals the emptiness and confusion in the hearts of modern people, as well as the interesting phenomenon of constantly attributing self-worth.

Fincher’s Experiment

Like many of Fincher’s directed films, “The Killer” is not an original story but an adaptation of a French comic of the same name.

The original work was published in 1998, and Fincher came into contact with this project in 2007, originally planning to direct and shoot it for Paramount Pictures and Pitt’s production company, Plan B.

The project went through various twists and turns, and in the end, in 2021, Fincher collaborated with his old home, Netflix, to shoot the film. He also enlisted the help of Andrew Kevin Walker, the screenwriter of “Se7en,” and his long-time collaborator Trent Reznor (known for his work on “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) to compose the score.

Fans who are familiar with Fincher know that at the turn of the century, he was considered a rising star in Hollywood on par with Christopher Nolan. During that time, “Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and “The Social Network” were all heavyweight classic films that could rival Nolan’s “Memento,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Prestige,” and “Inception.”

However, after “Gone Girl,” Fincher gradually shifted from the big screen to the small screen and became a senior strategist and head horse for Netflix. People gradually forgot Fincher’s legendary resume.

Yes, compared to the currently successful Nolan, Fincher seems somewhat dimmer and less ambitious. “The Killer” also abandons his expertise in multi-line narratives and loses his continuous exploration of “the theme of uncertainty.”

You see, the reason why Fincher and Nolan’s films are praised by experts is that they have grasped the profound psychological confusion people have experienced in the modern world since the new century. Until “Interstellar,” Nolan focused on this theme. But Fincher seems to have changed; he wants to explore the spiritual crisis of modern people through a minimalist and retro narrative style.

Why did the killer fail the mission at the beginning? And why did he spare someone’s life in the end? These two plot points that echo each other cannot be explained by coincidence or soft-heartedness; they point to the rebellion in the subconscious of modern people, a playful self-mockery of destiny.

Fincher’s level has never declined; he is just not as dazzling anymore, only his form is outstanding.

The Killer Image in Movies and the Exploration of Human Nature

The style of this movie is more important than its substance and, in the general sense, it is a boring film.

However, it is somewhat hasty to define this film simply as boring.

This is because the film’s narrative technique is unconventional.

This brings us back to the first sentence, where the film inherently possesses a uniqueness different from ordinary genre films.

For example, the film spends 20 minutes at the beginning showing the inner monologue of the killer during a mission, and the visual language presents a sense of loneliness unique to old-fashioned films. The voiceover directly breaks the fourth wall and confronts the audience.

Most killer films begin with an event that introduces the characters, showcasing the characters through the event, and shaping them through the event.

In this process, there is often the protagonist’s failure, revenge, emotional entanglement, and so on.

The first 20 minutes of “The Killer” are undoubtedly an event: an assassination mission.

However, David Fincher divides the assassination event into two worlds: the external and the internal.

The external world is the everyday life of a killer, involving surveillance, analyzing, and gathering information.

The internal world is the rich inner world of the killer, including various views on the profession, rules of the world, and human nature.

David Fincher clearly wants to inject more depth into killer films, excavating the personalities behind this common film image.

This creative approach actually aligns with David Fincher’s past creative experience.

However, in “The Killer,” David Fincher’s exploration of the characters' inner world is not meant to lead the audience to contemplate universal human nature, but to create a kind of dark humor, a hardboiled mockery in the style of Chandler.

The 20-minute opening sets up a cool, professional, and meticulous image of a killer.

Then comes the failed assassination, creating a strong contrast. The killer’s loneliness and profound contemplation seem like a joke.

This technique is quite unconventional, attempting to break the audience’s expectations and establish a different image of a killer—killers are not gods, they make mistakes, and even the most basic ones.

The subsequent story of the movie is completely about rectifying this mistake.

In the process of rectification, the exploration of the characters' inner world similar to the beginning of the film is completely absent. The director repeatedly emphasizes the killer’s professional ethics and beliefs to provide justification for the character’s actions.

The biggest problem with the film lies here.

The director goes to great lengths to design the image of the “killer,” but is indifferent to the image of the “person.”

The killer is a profession, while the person is the essence; the killer is a way of survival, while the person is a state of life.

The entire character is constantly struggling within the way of survival, losing the everyday experience of being human, as well as the background built around this experience, making the film appear monotonous and boring.

Michael Fassbender’s character image is cool, the repeated philosophy of survival within his inner self is cool, the continuous revenge is cool, the villain’s self-justification is cool, and the whole film is cool, but it just isn’t enjoyable to watch.

The Loneliness and Elegance of a Cold-blooded Killer

Unlike the forced grand finale of garbage Loki season two that Marvel dug up at a high price, this film has a delicate feeling, lonely and elegant.

In the first 10 minutes, a self-disciplined, elegant, and cold-blooded image of a lonely killer is portrayed through the protagonist’s inner monologue and visuals. The protagonist strictly adheres to his schedule, hates surprises, does yoga and push-ups, and follows a ketogenic diet (eating burgers without the bun). The protagonist doesn’t need psychological therapy; he rationalizes his own actions.

There is a scene here that hints at the subconscious. When the protagonist rationalizes his killings through atheism in his inner monologue, a shot is given of the protagonist doing yoga and kicking at the audience with his foot, aiming to create discomfort and make the audience subconsciously connect atheism with discomfort. Just like Nolan associates ideology, political inclinations, and Orpheinheimer’s romantic affairs in Inception.

According to the logic of dramatic creation, with such a protagonist, dramatic conflicts inevitably revolve around accidents, betrayals, and fate.

The pleasure of watching the film comes from voyeurism. The protagonist’s voyeurism of his targets brings the pleasure of the predator looking down, and the audience voyeuristically watches the protagonist through the camera lens.

The plot can be summed up in one sentence: the task assigned by the client goes wrong, and the protagonist eliminates colleagues, superiors, and threats one by one.

Except for the silly act of stepping on the phone by the protagonist, everything else is fine.

Mission Failed

A lousy movie, a lousy assassin. It serves you right for being an assassin with such skills, and failing to complete the mission.

Only after seeing the target did you realize that the gun was not yet fully loaded, and then you started to load… but it was too late for the perfect sniper shot.

The Sensation of Extraordinary Films

An incredibly impressive movie! After watching it, I truly feel that this is what a movie should be!

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly ordinary story! Pay attention! A great director can turn this mediocre story into an exceptional film!

What an amazing cinematic experience! The last time I felt this way was when I watched “Sicario” directed by Denis Villeneuve.