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The Killer is the Marie Kondo assassin movie

The life-changing magic of whacking people, then tidying up

Michael Fassbender as The Killer, in close up, wearing shades and a bucket hat in the back of a cab Image: Netflix
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Around 70% of David Fincher’s The Killer, the fastidious director’s new hitman movie on Netflix, is watching Michael Fassbender throw things he doesn’t need anymore in the trash. Disposable gloves, backpacks, guns, disguises, corpses, phones, identities, surplus packaging, the bun of an Egg McMuffin. Fassbender’s assassin character — referred to simply as “the killer” in the credits — just keeps moving forward, like a shark, jettisoning anything and everything that’s no longer required, that might be evidence, that might slow him down or weigh down his pockets.

There’s one scene where he goes to a locker, collects something he needs for a hit that he ordered on Amazon, rips open the Amazon box, then immediately puts it in the bin, right there on the street. He doesn’t take it home and put it in the corner to wait for the recycling collection on Tuesday. He just tosses it out.

Initially, I was confounded by Fincher’s decision to show this extremely mundane procedural detail. But Fincher is nothing if not intentional, and the truth is, this shot has a strange power. It’s vicariously satisfying, thrilling even, to watch Fassbender efficiently dispose of the superfluous cardboard. Yes, I thought to myself in the dark theater, almost involuntarily. Imagine if you could live your life like that.

The Killer is at once a relatively disposable crime thriller and a knowing, deeply self-referential work about its director’s personal psychopathology. Adapted from a French graphic novel, it’s the story of a hitman who must work his way back up a chain of handlers, sources, professional rivals, and clients to stay alive and clean up the mess after a contract goes wrong. It plays almost like a parody of a David Fincher movie, full of glossy visuals, meticulous set-pieces, and gross violence. Keeping it on tempo are The Smiths songs, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ churning electronica, and the killer’s internal monologue, which Fassbender delivers in a zonked-out, monotonous drone. The killer, with his buttoned-down professionalism and slyly evasive lack of identity, is clearly a stand-in for Fincher himself, an obsessive perfectionist auteur hiding in plain sight as a mainstream director for hire. (Although, in a twist that’s thematically fascinating if occasionally frustrating to watch, the killer is also a bit of a doofus.)

Michael Fassbender as The Killer, sitting in an airport waiting room, wearing a baseball cap, looking bored Image: Netflix
Michael Fassbender as The Killer sits cross-legged on the floor on a plastic sheet Image: Netflix
Michael Fassbender as The Killer, sitting in a relaxed fashion on a bench, dressed as a German tourist Image: Netflix

David Fincher might be Hollywood’s head sicko. He’s adept at smuggling his own dark desires into his movies under cover of the uncanny, uncomfortably precise insight he has into the twisted shit audiences like to see. And in The Killer, he has hit on one of his most gratifying vicarious spectacles yet: the simple act of disposal. Or not so simple, in the case of a human life.

The macro part of this, and the supposed draw of the film, is the kills themselves. We observe as the killer identifies his target, moves to a new locale, adapts his methods, and engages in a grimly funny confrontation with a person he must wipe out of existence, before he does the wiping. But the micro part — the part that is more intimate and relatable, that tickles the viewer right in the subconscious — is the accumulation of little details around each kill. Part of this is the preparation, but another, just as important part is the planned withdrawal afterward, whether the kill succeeded or not. There’s cleaning up to do, sometimes literally; there are the tools of the job to get rid of, including the person the killer was pretending to be. Then he disappears into the night, shorn of even the name he arrived with.

For ordinary people leading ordinarily messy, cluttered lives, it’s a deep fantasy to watch someone routinely pack up, shed everything, and walk away — over and over and over again. Imagine just letting it all go, scrubbing it all out, chucking it all away. Imagine the cleanliness and simplicity of just erasing anything you don’t want to deal with. Is it just me? David Fincher knows that it isn’t.

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