“I liked the idea of exploring the inner psyche of somebody who kills for a living. And how he qualifies his notion of what he’s doing from what other people might ‘misperceive’ it as.” says director David Fincher of The Killer, who re-unites with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, with whom he created the indelible serial killer thriller Se7en.
A streamlined thriller about an assassin discovering his limits, The Killer is the twelfth feature of director David Fincher.
In contrast to an unknowable, glamorous figure, The Killer makes us privy to his inner thoughts, as well as his bland, practical reality.
“We thought it would be interesting if the ‘cool’ assassin movie tropes were all taken away,” says Fincher.
There are no nightclubs or bespoke suits here – this man shops in airports, stays in chain hotels and does
everything he can to blend in. “I wanted him to be somebody that you wouldn’t notice on the street,” says
Fassbender of his cold-eyed antihero. “He’s not a person you could identify just by looking at him, but
once you get inside his head…”
Adapted from the acclaimed graphic novel written by “Matz” (Alexis Nolent), The Killer explores the
boundaries of the revenge movie. “In a revenge movie, you want to see people get their revenge,” says Fincher. “We just used the idea to ask: ‘Or do you?’”
The audience shares the point of view of the title character, hearing his personal maxims as he attempts
to re-order his life.
“Stick to your plan. Anticipate, don’t improvise. Trust no one. Never yield an advantage. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight…”
But as The Killer travels target to target, from France to the Dominican Republic to America, we find life – and death – doesn’t always follow the rules
Paris, night. An unnamed man in unremarkable clothes, The Killer (Michael Fassbender) watches from the floor of an empty office, across from the plush apartment of his target, rifle at hand. Measured, and controlled, he takes every step to ensure the job goes flawlessly… It doesn’t. The Killer flees, following his strict personal mantra of dispassionate action. But his employers want him erased. By attacking his home, they disturb his sanctuary and, with it, his sense of self. This – he will not abide, traveling through the Dominican Republic and the United States, eliminating anyone who might disrupt his hard-won peace again
What drew David Fincher to the ruthless French comic book, and the inspiration of its creator…
David Fincher first read The Killer shortly after the 2007 publication of an English-language edition of the
acclaimed French comic book series, which first appeared in 1998 and still runs today, 25 years on.
A provocative look into the mind of a sardonic assassin, The Killer is fueled by the dark humor and righteous anger of author Alexis “Matz” Nolent and the pristine and distinctive drawing of artist Luc Jacamon.
“He told me he loved the comic book, what it said, how it unfolded – everything,” says Nolent, who remembered Fincher’s enthusiastic reaction through the years that followed.
Whether it was timing or taste, attempts to adapt the material didn’t come to fruition until Fincher turned to his long-standing collaborator, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker
Fincher and Walker had first worked together on Se7en, the unforgettable 1995 serial killer movie which marked Walker’s screen debut and the first Fincher feature to fully display the talent of the director, who had made his name in music videos.
Walker also contributed uncredited rewrites on other Fincher films The Game (1997) and Fight Club (1999) and the pair speak frequently.
“Andy and I have talked for a long time about the idea of intercepted thoughts,” says Fincher. “How honest is their introspection?”
While the source material is quite expansive in what it covers – both in terms of story and politics –
the screenplay strips things back to become a more straightforward story of delivering retribution. But within that simplicity, there is an interesting contrast between what the nameless assassin says he believes – as expressed through his voiceover – and how he actually behaves.
“I love the idea of the code amongst assassins,” says Fincher. “But from a storytelling standpoint, what made this rise to the level of ‘We should do this next’ was how it dealt so specifically with subjectivity. You are inside this guy’s head.”
The audience is given access to the innermost thoughts of a hired killer, but also sees how his theoretical view of the world contrasts with reality.
“If you’re tapped into their thoughts, how do they reconcile what they do with what they believe?”
From The Adventures of Tintin to Asterix to Métal hurlant (a.k.a. Heavy Metal), comic books – or graphic novels, as the collected works are known – in France have long displayed a variety and received a level of respect that has only more recently been mirrored in America. There is great creative freedom within the medium, and it also provides a unique way to deal with perspective.
The difference between thought and reality, which so appealed to Fincher, drew Nolent to write the story in this format in the first place, after starting it as a traditional prose novel.
“I realized it would be more interesting as a graphic novel,” says Nolent. “Because of the discrepancy I wanted between what you read and what you see. You see how The Killer acts, but you are inside his head. What he does and what he thinks do not match.”
Seeing life through the eyes – and scope – of an assassin puts the audience in an interesting position, as
they may inevitably find themselves rooting for someone whose behavior is, put mildly, questionable.
Fincher admires Melville’s movie, while cinephiles may also see shades of Alfred Hitchcock in The Killer,
with its sardonic tone and opening stakeout, which recalls the voyeurism of Rear Window (1954). The
wry commentary of the title character, though, should not blind you to his savagery. The Killer is the story’s protagonist, but hardly its hero, whatever some people might think.
“A lot of readers tell me they agree with him,” says Nolent. “Or, they thought like that but never
expressed it. Sometimes they take the extra step of thinking The Killer is likable – this is not the intention.”
Fassbender certainly doesn’t want viewers to admire or aspire to his character.
“It should be terrifying when he does things,” says the Irish actor. “Just a blank face shooting at you. No emotion is involved. It’s just empty. This is hopefully a character that makes you feel ill at ease. I don’t want him to be cool.”
As well as appreciating Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay – and Fincher’s films overall – Fassbender
saw it as an opportunity to learn, exploring the methods of another director. When he worked with Malick on Song To Song, he knew it would be a free-wheeling, improvisational experience. “I thought, ‘It’ll be like going back to school, it’s a workshop.’” In contrast, he knew of Fincher’s specificity and desire to execute material in a particular, precise way. “So with Fincher, doing multiple takes, I thought, ‘It’s time for me to see this other way of shooting.’”
The actor loved it, finding working with the director a true partnership. “He’s been so generous and
collaborative from the beginning. It’s nice to be included like that. And it helps us move forward quickly. When I’m looking at the monitor, especially with technical stuff, like a fight sequence, he shows me exactly what he’s looking for and hopefully I can get there more efficiently.”
It’s useful to have an actor who is secure in himself when so many other elements need to be aligned to
capture a take that comes close to matching what Fincher has in mind.
“It was an interesting experience directing the movie because I knew that it was all about witnessing
behavior,” says Fincher, reflecting on following the central character.
“How do you show somebody who’s in it for the long haul, is not expending energy on shit they don’t need, who’s completely focused on their prey?”