Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Killer (2023)

Skepticism is often mistaken for cynicism. (Suuuure, it is...)

Stick to your plan.
Anticipate. Don't improvise.
Trust no one.
Never yield an advantage.
Fight only the battle you're paid to fight.
Forbid empathy. Empathy is weakness. Weakness is vulnerability. 
Each and every step of the way ask yourself: what's in it for me? 
This is what it takes. 
What you must commit yourself to...if you want to succeed.

It's the mantra by which the hired sniper (played by Michael Fassbender and unnamed except for some wildly amusing aliases on his I.D.'s and credit cards—he can't be accused of identity theft but might be in violation of the recent writer's strike) of David Fincher's The Killer (based on a graphic novel series by Alexis Nolent—ndp Matz—and Luc Jacamon) lives his life and dutifully repeats to himself after all the anticipation stops and he's actually required to pull a trigger—and only then, if his pulse-rate is hovering at 60.
It's the waiting that kills you. He keeps his body in shape with daily exercise, a light diet of protein—McDonald's...really?—and his mind focused with a steady stream of The Smiths and the aphorisms constantly scrolling through his head. 
He is in Paris, taking up temporary residence in an abandoned WeWork space across from a plush Paris penthouse that he constantly eyes for any sign of activity...or of a target. He's received an assignment, but the intended corpse is late. And this gun-man hates that. It's rude, for one thing. And if his intel is wrong about this, what else is off-track? Not that he knows anything about the target. He's not there to judge. "My process is purely logistical," he muses "narrowly focused by design. I'm not here to take sides. It's not my place to formulate any opinion. No one who can afford me, needs to waste time winning me to some cause. I serve no god, or country. I fly no flag. If I'm effective, it's because of one simple fact: I. Don't. Give. A. Fuck ."
But, he does, as far as the inefficiency goes. Cameras are everywhere. And though he purposely dresses as a German tourist to discourage any recognition...or interest...he can't help but think that his constant presence will gradually work against him, despite his M.O. of "redundancies, redundancies, and redundancies." On "Annie Oakley jobs" like this one, it's the details. "It only takes a few episodes of 'Dateline' to know there are countless ways to trip yourself up. If you can think of a dozen, you're a genius. I'm no genius." Later, he will get nostalgic: "When was my last, nice, quiet drowning?"
Maybe he should have waited until the guy got in the hotel pool. It wouldn't be a very interesting idea for a movie if everything went according to his plan. And little-by-little, that mantra becomes increasingly irrelevant and The Great Anticipator finds that he must improvise...a lot. The redundancies, redundancies, redundancies become complications, complications, complications. And, for once, he has to deal with the consequences as they hit closer to home. He finds it tough to be a target.
"I blame you...for having to bring my work home," he muses at one point. 
The Killer is fine, if you don't mind spend spending so much time with a conscienceless sociopath who has the advantage of never having to stick around for the aftermath—that's just something he never needs to calculate. But, when the tables turn and he actually has to give one of those fucks, there is no apparent empathy shift. He's still the coldly calculating death merchant with a penchant for pretense. And given his track record for playing sublimation and even mechanization, Fassbender is the perfect guy to play him. He's on-camera for most of the movie's running time, constantly in the sights of the view-finder and those types of marathons are tough to pull off. But, he does it with a seeming ease as the toughest thing his character can do is crack a smile.
Ultimately, it's a revenge movie—his clients don't like the outcome of the job he was hired for and so they go after him—and he has to methodically go up the chain, finding his contact, finding out his contacts, and taking them out one by one. He finds out "who", but the "why" is a bit of a mystery, unless you ascribe his own philosophy to their motivations:
"From the beginning of history, the few have always exploited the many. This is the cornerstone of civilization. The blood and mortar that binds all bricks. Whatever it takes, make sure you're one of the few, not one of the many." And so he goes about his business. Whatever it takes.
Fincher's direction is full of his feints and slights of hand—the time-transitions in a cut, the "impossible" shots (he did start out in special effects and he's in his wheel-house in a CGI-world—see the video below), all carefully controlled, composed and edited with a distinctive *snap* to them. It all looks simple, but what it takes to achieve that effect is extraordinarily complicated. That it's in service to another "revenge" plot is a bit disheartening. That it's something Fincher has wanted to make for years is more than a little depressing.
Fincher is such a craftsman, that he shouldn't be punching down. Maybe he had an extra commitment to Netflix for making Mank. Maybe he wanted to see if he could curb his instincts for budget and length and make something spare with both. Maybe the option to the graphic novel's film-rights were going to lapse. Or maybe this is his attempt to make a comedy ( although I've always considered Fincher's Fight Club more of a comedy) with its assassin who seems to have grown his habit for internal monologue watching "Dexter." Maybe it's his way of making a "John Wick" movie (why you'd want to, aside from the absurdity of it, escapes me). But, this is more This Gun For Hire than Le Samouraï.
If he was looking to make art, he was aiming a little low.
"Of those who like to put their faith in the inherent goodness of mankind,
 I have to ask, 'Based on what, exactly?'"

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