In the lineage of zen’d-out professional criminals like Alain Delon’s ice-cold but sartorially sound killer from “Le Samouraï,” the titular killer is a man for whom the devil lays in the details. The film’s lengthy opening sequence, a deeply satisfying short film unto itself, takes the viewer inside his process of executing a hit, coupled with near-constant editorializing about his methods, his worldview, and how the same impersonal systems that isolate us from face-to-face interaction in our daily lives make doing what he does so much easier. Though the film’s neo-noir nature allows David Fincher to indulge in some sinfully entertaining displays of violence, much of its actual power lies in using the protagonist’s chosen vocation as an entry point into commentary on the nature of the gig economy.
The dominant hitman franchise these days is the “John Wick” series, which burrows deeper into its arcane mythology with each chapter, showing us a secret underworld of like-minded criminals with their societal rules. But our killer dresses like a German tourist, eats breakfast at McDonald’s, and has key fob copiers same-day delivered to Amazon lockers when he needs to make a clean break-in. By the time he’s relying on a Postmates driver delivering food to a reclusive billionaire as an ingress point, “The Killer” resonates as a bleak portrayal of late-stage capitalism. There’s something so humorous about watching a professional in an occupation like contract killing, which is usually depicted with an otherworldly sense of intrigue, operate with such clinical and rote mundanity.
The unnamed killer protagonist uses an Apple Watch to track his micro-naps while staking out a job. He drinks water from the same convertible metal cup that shows up in “everyday carry” videos all over YouTube. And in between his incessant musings on how to blend in and why murdering people for a living really isn’t all that bad, he listens to The Smiths. A lot. Whenever Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ delightfully dissonant original score is not in use, or we’re not subjected to the painful, waiting silence of the killer’s downtime, an endless array of needle drops featuring Morrissey’s trademark vocals and Johnny Marr’s lovely guitar work act as a counterbalance for the dry, dispassionate way Michael Fassbender speaks and moves. Professional hitmen — they use apps to order food and dissociate to sad songs just like the rest of us!