Last Friday, Netflix released a new original titled “The Killer.” Directed by David Fincher and starring Michael Fassbender, the plotline revolves around a methodical and unwavering hitman who misses his shot for the first time in his career. When the murder-for-hire goes wrong, a cascade of events prompts the Killer, who remains unnamed throughout the film, to go hunting for those who dispatched him.
One of the most unique features of the movie is that it manages to create suspense and captivate the audience despite a lack of dialogue. Nonetheless, it’s no silent movie; The Killer serves as a homodiegetic narrator who walks us through most of the movie from his point of view.
The protagonist – or maybe antagonist, depending on your perspective – can only be described as professional, methodical and sociopathic. Introduced to us in what seems to be an empty Parisian apartment as he stalks his victim, the Killer has a disciplined routine that enables his tried and true success.
Waiting patiently for hours on end while vigilantly scoping out the streets below for signs of his victim, the narrator seems to be lost in his thoughts – which he addresses to the audience. Spewing statistics, aphorisms and philosophies alike, he creates an image of self-control and adeptness at what he does. Monitoring his pulse for optimal breathing during a shot, sleeping in an alert position, waking up in the wee hours of the morning to do calisthenics and destroying or sterilizing every piece of equipment that he encounters, are testaments to his proficiency.
The story is separated into “chapters,” each occurring in a new location. Perhaps this is fitting – after all, our main character has certainly done endless reading and would likely not appreciate a dramatization of his experience.
Notably, the Killer seems to have a mantra that he lives and works by, which is a product of the personal philosophies he’s spent hours and hours pondering over. “Stick to your plan, trust no one, forbid empathy, anticipate, don’t improvise.”
Throughout the film, the narrator reiterates the nature of and the perfection with which he executes his calling, repeating this mantra in almost every chapter. Despite initially claiming that he was good at his job because “I don’t give a f—” and repeatedly displaying untainted cruelty, the Killer seems to become more and more perturbed as the movie continues. As the chapters progress, he is uniquely forced to confront the inexplicable immortality of his actions because, for the first time, they are ricocheting backwards to affect him and his family.
When the narrator misses a shot for the first time, an alarm sounds throughout the target’s building. As he flees the scene, it’s clear that “stick to the plan” has gone out the window. While he manages to get away, destroying his phone and disguising himself in the process, he is visibly shaken. When he calls his boss to report that the assassination has gone sideways, his employer is clearly angry, as they’re not in the business of keeping “clients” waiting.
In chapter two, he returns to his “hideout” – his home in the jungles of Santo Domingo – to find that his wife has been brutally assaulted and his home has been ravaged. For the first and only time, we see the Killer emotionally distraught when he sees the mangled but living body that belongs to his wife. He promises his brother-in-law that nothing of this nature will ever happen again. Suspecting, correctly, that his employers have exacted revenge on him for his failure, the Killer spends the rest of the movie hunting those who attacked his wife.
Throughout his mission, he’s confronted by instances that challenge his sociopathy and scratch at the humanity hidden beneath his surface. At one point, he goes back to the corrupt lawyer who convinced him to quit studying law and become a hitman. Demanding answers, the encounter ends in the lawyer’s murder.
A distraught secretary, who’s been bound and forced to listen to the whole encounter, begs for her life – or rather, the return of her body to her family. Momentarily, it seems as though the Killer is conflicted. As the voice of “forbid[den] empathy” reverberates in his head, her pleading strikes a chord of pity in the assassin. In a cold compromise, he drives her home before killing her.
As he traces the perpetrators, he is forced into a brawl with one of the men who assaulted his wife, almost ending in his own death. So much for “under the radar.” When he finally finds the man who called the “hit” on his wife, he leaves with nothing more than a stark threat. The movie concludes as the Killer, with no employer left to order him around, “retires” with his wife to the Dominican Republic.
While this quaint ending seems out of place for a movie about murder, I think it demonstrates the transformation of the narrator’s character. He’s finally ended a line of work that he was all too good at.