Is David Fincher’s ‘The Killer’ a Comedy?
Given his penchant for ultra-dark cinematography, twisted characters, and brutal endings, it’s easy to forget that David Fincher is more than capable of slipping a comedic beat or two into his movies. A murderer’s use of an ultra-sappy Enya song during a torture sequence in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” or Kevin Spacey’s bone-dry witticisms in “Seven,” are just two examples of Fincher lightening the mood a tad.
Fincher’s latest film, “The Killer,” likewise features some funny bits: the titular assassin’s use of sitcom characters’ names on his fake IDs, or how he turns to Amazon to instantly order a device that will allow him to bypass a building’s supposedly ironclad security. But is the movie an outright comedy? That’s a question I keep turning over in my mind.
At least on the surface, “The Killer” plays like the latest in a long line of existential assassin movies extending back to “Le Samourai” and beyond. The Killer is alone, isolated from the rest of society, and utterly consumed by the minutiae of his work. When he botches a hit, his employer sends other assassins to annihilate him. The rest, as you might expect, is a series of gunfights and stealthy maneuvers as he tries to extract himself from the consequences of his mistake.
The relentless pace (the movie has a tight runtime of 118 minutes), noirish environment, and techno-dirge soundtrack (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) give the movie an ultra-serious gloss, but there’s an underlying weirdness that separates it from other assassin movies. The Killer (Michael Fassbender) speaks to the audience in voiceover, narrating each meticulous step of his kills—and yet he relies on the most banal cliches, and frequently forgets to follow his own advice. Every few scenes, he gets something catastrophically wrong, such as how long it takes a human being to bleed out with a nail in their chest, or the correct amount of drug needed to knock out a large dog.
By the end of the film, he’s less the epitome of the ice-cold assassin than a weirdo you’d hire because nobody else was available; you might not even trust him to watch your cat for the weekend, lest he accidentally let the animal out and burn your house down. It works as a deconstruction of the hitman genre, but did Fincher intend all this to be bust-a-gut funny?
I think the answer is “yes”: switch out the soundtrack to something a little jauntier, maybe play up some of the beats and reveals in the editing suite, and you’d have something you could outright shelve in the Bleak Comedy section. But Fincher won’t commit to quite that degree; he needs to infuse everything he touches with a hefty dose of darkness. That leaves “The Killer” as an odd, intriguing, and often frustrating little flick.
Nick Kolakowski is the author of „Maxine Unleashes Doomsday“ and „Boise Longpig Hunting Club“ as well as the Love & Bullets trilogy of novellas. His noir fiction has appeared in Tough, ThugLit, Mystery Tribune, Plots With Guns, and various anthologies. His „Payback is Forever“ (Shotgun Honey 2022) is inspired clearly by the novels of Richard Stark. Our review here (in German). – See also his Hell of a Mess. A Love & Bullets Hookup.
Nick Kolakowski, geboren 1980, aufgewachsen in Washington. D.C., hat Geschichte in Chicago studiert. Er schreibt Romane, Kurzgeschichten, Lyrik und Essays, viele davon über Crime Fiction und verwandte Themen. Seine Texte erscheinen u. a. in der Washington Post, in Shotgun Honey, North American Review, The Evergreen Review, Rust & Months. Kolakowski lebt in New York City. Eine Besprechung des von Parker inspirierten „Payback is Forever“ in unseren Bloody Chops.
His column „Smoking Gun“ with us:
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Weed-Based Crime Thrillers are Going Up in Smoke
‘The Last of Us’: Crime in the Post-Apocalypse
What Made “Glass Onion” and “Knives Out” So Popular?
Jordan Harper’s One-Two Punch of Crime Fiction Deserves a Wide Audience
‘True Detective’ Season 2: Was It Better Than We All Thought?
From ‘Touch of Evil’ to ‘True Detective,’ Long Shots are Crime Films’ Secret Weapon
Michael Mann, again: What Michael Mann Teaches Us About Enduring Crime Fiction
„Heat 2“ – How Do You Craft a Sequel to a Masterpiece?
4 Ways Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Novel Stands Out From the Film.
On „Heat“: Manhunter Takes Down Thief: How Michael Mann’s Early Career Led to ‘Heat’
The Most Honest Nihilism – on „The Way of the Gun“
No, Time to Die – The latest James Bond movie digs into the fatalism at the iconic spy’s core.
Cormac McCarthy’s Overlooked Masterpiece? – „The Councelor“
„Nightmare Alley“ – How Guillermo del Toro’s Film Alters a Masterpiece Noir Novel
David Cronenberg – The Carnal Crime of “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”
With Parker, Donald E. Westlake Pulled Off Crime Fiction’s Most Spectacular Magic Trick
Guy Ritchie’s Return to Crime Films is Worth Watching