David Fincher, the three-time Oscar nominated director behind dark films such as Seven, Zodiac and cult classic Fight Club, has found another hit with audiences: The Killer.
Starring Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton, the thriller has hovered at the top of Netflix's list of its most-watched movies since it debuted there on Nov. 10 — it's been viewed 27.9 million times — following a limited theatrical release.
The project was a big deal before it was even released, because the last time that Fincher made a movie in his signature genre was in 2014, the year he did Gone Girl.
Here's a guide to his latest:
What is The Killer about? And who else is in the cast?
While you might think from the title that The Killer follows a traditional serial killer in the vein of Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy, it's actually the story of a professional assassin, a character simply called "The Killer," who's played by Fassbender. The audience sees early on that he lives a very precise and meticulous lifestyle, down to his workouts, in order to keep everything perfectly balanced. One mistake could send his entire existence into a tailspin. So, of course, he soon makes a big one that he has to correct. Our leading man, who speaks directly to the audience, or to himself, through an inner monologue, then goes on an international manhunt with gasp-inducing high stakes, as he fights the very people that he once worked for. The events all lead to an unexpected ending.
In addition to Fassbender and Swinton, the cast includes Charles Parnell (Top Gun: Maverick), Arliss Howard (Fincher's Mank) and Endre Hules, whose credits include TV shows such as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, 24 and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
What's it based on?
Like so many movies these days, the script is an adaptation, this one of a comic book series from France published in 1998. Artist Luc Jacamon drew it, and Alexis "Matz" Nolent wrote the adventures.
This go round, Andrew Kevin Walker, who's collaborated with Fincher on Seven and more, penned the script. He worked tirelessly on that memorable opening scene, in which we hear the main character's thoughts as he methodically prepares himself for another assignment. It presents as talky, but it has minimal dialogue, the result of Walker and Fincher working on it from before shooting to post-production.
"We started to go at it, and we kept at it, and we kept at it," Walker told Entertainment Weekly. "There may have been times — and I'm not saying this was an argument — but there may have been times when I was going, eh, feels about right to me, I'm done, baby! But it was David's insistence that we keep discussing it. I'm really grateful on his insistence to keep finding the balance, because some of the stuff that came very late in the process of discussing and adjusting voiceover are not only some of my favorite things in this movie but some of my favorite things I've ever written."
As for the casting, well, they considered bringing back another member of the Seven team to turn the comic, which Fincher learned about in 2007.
"I'd originally been thinking of Brad [Pitt] back in 2008," Fincher told Rolling Stone. "But his response had been, 'Eh, a little too nihilistic for me.' OK, so, who? We needed someone who would embrace that aspect of the character. Then a dozen or so years later, when Andy and I were in the middle of hashing it out, I thought of Michael Fassbender."
Fincher sent the actor-turned-professional race car driver the script, on the off chance that he had interest and time to do it.
"And a few hours later, he called back and told me he was in," said Fincher, who filmed in Paris, New Orleans, Chicago and the Dominican Republic.
What else has Fincher said about The Killer? What has the cast said?
Fincher told reporters at the Venice Film Festival just why he was interested in zooming in on an assassin.
"The task at hand is relatable, it’s dramatic, it's high stakes and in a lot of ways it's extremely procedural, there are a lot of boxes that you need to tick before you exhale and pull," Fincher said, via Deadline. "I didn't really think of the movie as an assassin movie, I think of it more as a revenge movie."
Fincher further said that he hopes his work makes someone who's seen it "get very nervous about the person behind them in line at Home Depot."
The cast didn't promote the film as they usually would have because of the just resolved actors strike.
But the movie got some free publicity when no less than Guillermo del Toro, who won the Academy Award for Best Director in 2017, for Shape of Water, and whose animated version of Pinocchio took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2023, raved about it on social media. "It's great when you can see a film and a movie at the same time," Del Toro wrote.
The Killer is a beautiful Bronson movie if penned by Sartre and filmed by Melville with the briskness of a Siegel. I simply love, love, love when Fincher swings with a mean genre beat. Nimble and clockwork precise and fun. The breeziest film I have seen in a long time. It's… pic.twitter.com/bR7IGuTKU5
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) November 12, 2023
What do movie critics think?
The Rotten Tomatoes score for the movie is 86 percent, based on 227 reviews. (More than 1,000 audience members gave it an average of 61 percent.)
"The Killer is ultimately Minor Fincher, which of course is better than Major Lots of Other People," Decider's John Serba wrote. CNN critic Brian Lowrt noted, "The Killer has an old-fashioned feel and still manages to nail its target by bringing dashes of freshness, wit and unpredictability to this well-worn genre."
The Toronto Star added that the flick is "the closest thing to comedy that the director will ever do."
Some critics called the movie dull and lacking emotion, although they applauded Fincher as, to quote the New York Times reviewer, "supremely skilled" and someone who "can't help but make images that hold your gaze even as your mind wanders."
Where can I watch The Killer?
The movie is still in select theaters, for those who want to see it on the big screen, but it's also available on Netflix.