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The Killer explained (2023)

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Reader Interactions


  1. you omit faith. and expand on redundancy.
    also.. you seem unaware that attraction, or virtue is not solely based on morality + morality has christianity as standard.. not what you propose.

  2. All the names he used were TV characters from the 70s, I don’t think his real name was George Jefferson 😂

  3. Very thorough review. I am curious about one thing. How many times have you watched this movie before fully understanding it? This question goes for the other movies reviewed on this site. I mean, what I really want to know is are you able to pin-point a movie’s themes and motiffs and analyze it on you first go? What’s your process?

    • Hey! We have a page on the site called “how to watch a film” where we talk about a lot of the techniques we use. I go into a bit of detail on a piece about the opening of Nocturnal Animals

      I’ve always been good at understanding stories. It’s silly but in high school I had near perfect scores on the reading portions of the ACT and SAT. I think I missed 1-2 questions on each. I had a 35/36 and an 790/800. In college, I studied fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, screenplay writing, and film. I spent 3 years as head fiction editor for a literary journal that published every month. I was reading and evaluating 20-40 stories every single month and providing critical feedback on the ones we didn’t publish. Then another year as editor in chief. Then I’ve had two novels published.

      It’s kind of like a mechanic opening up the hood of a car. You spend enough time doing it so you know what to look for, where things typically go, how they usually interact, etc. As much as people mythologize the subjectivity of art, it often relies on formal elements that are known and identifiable. I use those techniques myself.

      And the amount of times I watch a movie before writing about it can vary. For example, The Killer I only watched in theater. So it doesn’t get quite as involved as a movie that I can go through repeatedly. Like for Killers of the Flower Moon, I had access after seeing it in the theater so could really get into the details. For The Killer, I still have to go back and touch up the ending and get the exact dialogue.

      But the process is typically pay special attention to the opening shot/scene, the closing shot/scene, then note any repeated visuals or dialogue. Any ironies or things that go against expectation. So for The Killer, him sparing the billionaire is one of those things that goes against expectation. You don’t get the big, dramatic climax. Why? Is it anticlimactic because of bad writing? Or is it a purposeful choice? If it’s a choice, why make it?

      Once I start following a lead like that, I hypothesize and look for supporting evidence. “Okay, sparing the billionaire goes against audience expectation. Is that a motif? Do we see other times where the film goes against or at least toys with expectation?” Sometimes those questions lead nowhere. Other times, they cascade.

      Other times, it’s pretty obvious. Like Anatomy of the Fall’s main character is a writer. And the film opens with an interviewer asking her about her use of reality in fiction. The question comes up multiple times. Right away, that’s a signal to me that we should be looking at the relationship between reality and fiction. Especially with it being a court room drama where the prosecutor tries to create a narrative of why someone’s guilty and the defense creates a narrative of why they’re innocent. When the film has more dialogue about reality and fiction—-that’s confirmation.

      There are a few films on the site where I posted my watch notes for if you want to get an idea of what’s going through my head as I watch something. How to watch Perfect Blue | critical notes It includes the notes on my second watch then my third. And there’s a huge difference in texture. The second is a wide, wide net, where pretty much everything is on the table. The third viewing, what I’m thinking about is a lot more refined and complex. The big thing to pay attention to is the breakthrough I have regarding the use of lights as a motif. It’s brought up a bit in the second watch notes. Then really codifies in the third watch.

      • Hey, thanks for the detailed response. It is helpful. I watch a lot of films a week, like 10 a week. I pretty much enjoy old stuff from the 50’s to the 80’s. American films mostly. I am not american by the way. I have no formal studies or training in literature or fiction. For me it’s kind of DIY. I also watch new films, of course, but from ‘the usual suspects’: Scorsese, Nolan, both Andersons P.T. and Wes, Fincher, Arronofsky, Villeneuve, just to name a few. My process is usually: I watch the film as it comes out, 95% of the time in a theatre, I then look for the source material, maybe it was based on a book or a comic book or an article, or maybe it was an original script. I try to get my hands on the original material and read it to see where the film strayed off sort to speak. I want to see what the filmmaker took from the source material and what they changed and then ask the question why they made those changes. I also lookup film analysis/reviews on youtube or sites like yours, which I came across accidentaly. I look up interviews with the creators, which usually lead me to dead ends because most filmmakers as you know will not give their interpretation of their film. To me it’s important I know what the filmmaker was trying to say because I came across this multiple times where the filmmaker leaves the film up for interpretation and 90% of the time the film meaning is misinterpreted. Okay, yeah, it creates buzz and word of mouth but for me it’s frustrating when directors don’t discuss their interpretation because I feel like I am losing time trying to decipher what they are actually trying to say. So, I am always looking for some sort of guide or something to try and refine my understanding of films. Usually on the first viewing I don’t get it, I don’t know if I am part a few cinephiles that don’t get the deeper meaning behind a film on the first viewing. The first time I see a film, I take it in as a whole. Because you are practically bombarded, by interersting shots, intersting use of sound-mixing, soundtrack, actor’s performances, etc… Sometimes I just find it a bit frustrating that I love movies so much and I would like to have a better grasp in understanding most of the ‘deeper meaning’ from the 1st viewing, but it’s usually a long long process for me. I have to see the film multiple times across periods of time because everytime I notice something new. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this would be expected since these teams of creators: writers, directors, sound-mixers, special effects guys spend a year or two years in making a film and a good film takes multiple viewings to unpack. That’s why I’ve asked the previous question. I did see the page “how to watch a film”, but like I said not being formally trained, not have had the chance to study literature or filmmaking at that level and having to do this on my own, I continously look for a set of specific rules that apply to any film viewing. Example: I should be looking for repeated lines and find patterns in the narrative. I did notice that in The Killer, the titular character often contradicts himself and I understand Fincher used the VO against the viewier in the manner that you are expecting for the VO to be the ‘truth’ when in actually it’s the character’s truth and the character’s liying to himself and that kind of threw me off a bit. Also, yeah, it kind of confused me when he let the billionaire live, because I thought it was so out of character. Ok, if he had killed the billionaire maybe he would have attracted more attention to himself and he would never had peace of mind or maybe the words the Expert gave the Killer cut deep into his psyche and the hunter joke and all of that cause him to get out of the loop sort to speak. It was what he needed to hear at the right team to remove himself from the job continuity. A job he started to hate. I guess I am a little dissapointed in myself that I did not catch these things in the first viewing so that is the point of why I’ve asked the question, because to me it’s not a matter of not seeing enough movies. I see a lot and I love them, I just wished I could understand the deeper meaning of well made films from the 1st viewing. I hope in the near future I arrive at that point.
        Thanks again.

        • Sorry for the delay in response! I think what you’re describing is pretty normal. Like I’ve watched a lot of basketball, but I never played organized basketball. So I understand the game on a certain level but I don’t really have an appreciation for the nuance of it. I know nothing about the plays they run or any kind of advanced tactics. No amount of watching games will give me that information. I have to seek it out. Same kind of thing with driving a car. I drive a car almost every day. But I have no idea how the car works.

          So you’re doing the right thing in terms of looking up information and analysis and the like. But the best way to better understand is to write a bit more yourself. Or just learn about writing. For example, there’s a book called STORY by Robert McKee. If you read that, you’ll start to see the blueprint of a story a lot easier. Film Art by David Bordwell is also a great introduction book.

          I don’t think I mentioned it in the previous comment, but I’m also a novelist and poet. So I’ve learned and used all of these techniques. Meaning they’re really easy to see when I watch a movie. Which is why one viewing is often enough.

          What you’re describing with watching a movie multiple times is what they teach with poetry. You read a poem once just to get the shape of it. You read it a second time to actually see it. And the third time to understand it.

          You’ve watched so many movies that I’m sure once you start reading some of the more formal aspects of filmmaking and narrative that things will click pretty quickly!

  4. So after seeing Darren Van Dam’s Flick Connection teaser for The Killer on Netflix, I was really excited to watch it.  The opening was certainly promising.  It set a mood, a sense of place and purpose that felt unlike anything I’ve seen recently.  It felt like we were going to unwrap common tropes to discover subtleties beneath overworked themes.  After all the Killer’s preparations to control every possible variable, there was an instant of bad (or good, depending on perspective) luck, and he missed.  So there is going to be some consequence, and that is what the movie is going to be about.

    And then the movie quits.  Or shifts gears to a trite revenge trajectory that gets so insipid that it kinda ruins an (admittedly simple) viewer’s appetite to dig any deeper.  I don’t understand the choice not to invest in the basic plausibility of a plot sturdy enough to hang all the themes in the article from it.

    For example, why does the Lawyer Hodges believe there was a need to prevent blowback?  The Killer is a ghost.  He is not going to get caught, and after not being caught, he is not going to be found in his remote jungle hideout.  He very studiously avoids learning anything about his targets and clients so he would have nothing to tell the police in any case.  So maybe Hodges wanted to sell another cleanup contract.  But to sell out an invaluable asset like the Killer with a heretofore 1000% batting average for $150k?  Of which Hodges pocketed … maybe $50k?  Maybe I don’t understand how contract killing works, but this whole course of action seems to guarantee blowback, not curb it, however it turns out.

    Then he dispatches the Killer’s killers so quickly that they arrive at the Killer’s hideout before he does.  For his part, the Killer staked out his Paris assignment for many days beforehand, taking great care not to leave behind a single incriminating cell of genetic material.  Those assigned to dispatch him arrive a couple hours early, smoke a pack of cigarettes and drop the butts while pacing in the soft dirt next to his gate keypad.  Then they lose patience and decide to rape/torture his girlfriend.  How was that possibly going to work?  Then they let her go.  Then they don’t even wait for him to show up–because they’ve got more important things to get back to?  Because this is the kind of job they can not only leave unfinished, but way less finished than if they had never started?  Hmmm.

    Then when we meet the Florida assassin.  You wouldn’t even hire him to kill bugs because he would burn down your house.  How is this guy in the same rolodex as the Killer?

    Then we meet the Expert, who seems at least somewhat cunning.  But somehow she accepted an assignment with the Florida lunk.  And then thoroughly failed to modulate his messy approach. So what was she even there for? The Killer and the Expert at least have a meaningful conversation, and things seem hopeful that when the inevitable meeting with the Client comes, there will be some insight into the nature of evil, perhaps its banality, or some feature in its texture that confounds the Killer and lifts or sinks him … and the client just turns out to be some clueless tech bro whose only interesting feature is a goofy hat.  The Killer threatens him and leaves.

    It seems like with MIchael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton, all that style and all those locations, there should have been a movie in there.  Actually, from the exhaustive and thoughtful review above, it seems there was and I just missed it.  There were just so many dumb choices that I couldn’t begin to fathom the smart ones.

    Thank you for the review.  You put a lot of effort and thought into it.

    • I agree the movie was not perfect. If you read the comic it’s based on, you will see that they stripped it to the bare essentials. Most likely to conserve time as the comic has 13 issues. After reading Chris’ review above, I would say that his interpretation does fit. That the film is actually about a guy who does not like his job anymore, who is burned out, who missed out on life. The way I saw the thing with the Brute and the Expert, my first thought was that why didn’t they kill the Killer’s GF? Why leave her alive. After viewing the film another time, the Killer actually gets paranoid after the Paris job, when he sees the guy in the suit with the glasses and the blue socks and gives up his seat on the flight. He arrives in the Dominican Republic the next day. I think the Brute and the Expert were supposed to catch the Killer at home and dispatich him. Instead all they got was the girlfriend and maybe they wanted to leave a message for the Killer or might be that the Expert was not lying at the end and the Brute got carried away. I agree this could have be done better, meaning the Brute and the Expert should have waited for the Killer at his place or kill his girlfriend as punishment for the Paris job.

      • Good catch with the flight change throwing things off!

    • – “I don’t understand the choice not to invest in the basic plausibility of a plot sturdy enough to hang all the themes in the article from it.”
      – “There were just so many dumb choices that I couldn’t begin to fathom the smart ones.”

      Yeah, I so agree, and this is always my problem. I know from having worked as an executive in global operations just how hard it is for the best-intentioned product/outcome to look like the plans, execution, and effort that went into it. But still, when it comes to films where you want to suspend your disbelief for a couple hours, it doesn’t take much to snap you out of it and discount everything else.

      I agree with your points, and I could add a bunch more from outrageous casting, acting, costume, and location fuckups to just wildly non-sensical strategic decisions from every so-called expert involved. I know it’s hard to see these things when in production, but you still want to scream why can’t they have non-involved quality control to catch these things BEFORE release. I’m honestly shocked that Fincher’s name was attached to this, and I can only rationalise it by guessing he didn’t care going into it or stopped caring while going through it. Usually this happens as you lose grip on creative control. Some parts were so fucking cringe that it destroyed any other impression of story or quality.

      That being said, I do appreciate Chris’ breakdown and can see all the points he made. I think I’m still angry at the gross failure of my expectations (but come on, it’s Fincher) and my lost two hours.

    • Well said. I’ve been softening on the movie over the last few months, kind of thinking maybe I liked it more than I thought I did. This knocked some sense back into me lol. The one thing in its defense that I will say is that I think the cigs on the ground were from the cab driver? He was parked by the gate while the other two went in.

      But, yeah, everything you said is just so damning. Why wouldn’t they wait for him? If that was their job? And the tech guy didn’t care about revenge on Fassbender. So it’s something Hodges wanted? But why? As you touched on—wouldn’t it be hard to replace Fassbender? And if he was sentenced to death for messing up the hit…what about the ones who were sent to dispatch him? Didn’t they mess up the hit? Or did Hodges think that was enough of a message?

      It was a disappointing movie. Fincher usually does pretty well with adaptations. But this was pretty different from the source material. Maybe too different. And they just didn’t fill in the gaps well.

  5. No. You are all wrong.
    And once you start wildy speculating about GRRM you totally lost me.
    You don’t understand the movie at all.

    • Can you elaborate? What was wrong? What did I understand? A positive contribution can actually make it into the article (with credit!).

  6. would love to knew your point

  7. Hey, what is the point of his aliases all being television characters?

    • My initial thought is that there’s something to the idea that he initially distances himself from the normies. Then the names he uses are all TV characters, rather than “real” people. So there is, again, that distance. Even a fakeness? That then leads to the end when he says he’s just like us. So not a character or an actor playing a character, but a regular, normal person.

  8. All of the names the Killer uses throughout the movie, including the one at the bank, are character names from TV shows.

    One was Sam Malone – Ted Danson’s character from “Cheers”

    Another was Lou Grant – Ed Asner’s character from the titular show and from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

    The one at the bank was George Jefferson – Sherman Hemsley’s character from “The Jeffersons”

    • Thank you!

  9. I have a question that I did not see posted here. What is the meaning behind the Killer’s twitch at the end of the movie? After he says the final line: ‘one of the many’, you can see his left cheeck twitch, before closing his eyes and the screen going black. To me this appears to be something intentional. What could this mean? Is he unsure if he made the right decision retiring?

    • He never blinks throughout the movie until that final shot, and at that time he says he is one of the many. So I think the twitch/eye blink is to symbolize to the audience that he is done with being a hit man.

      He has basically arrived at a point a where he has changed his perspective on life. Which would seem to make sense in general as the point of a movie is often to show a character go from one place in life to another (their “arc” so to speak)

      • I thought the twitch was meant to symbolise that the killer had been poisoned. As referenced in the monologue preceding the final scene while he muses that in ‘joining the many’ he is now ‘mortal’ and has been poisoned bu the coffee cup with the effect of ‘necropsy of the face’ (I’m paraphrasing). So he’s dying in his retirement. I.e You can never escape your previous life.

        • No, talking about “the many” in the epilogue is a direct reference to the monologue early in the movie and possibly to his description of the expert’s “hideout” (with him sitting in the train to Beacon and wondering why she chose to live amongst “normies” in or next to – what he describes as – a bedroom community). As an assassin, he is not one of the many who are used and exploited by the wealthy, he lives by his own (mantra) of rules. The fact that he refers to himself as a guy being one of the many in the epilogue, can be seen as vague hint that he wants to retire or that he retired already, the twitch then comes across like an ultra short wink, as in “just kidding”, or like him being irritated by his own thought. The latter would be a reference to what the expert said: once in the assassin buiz, she told herself that she’d quit once she would have earned enough money to be able to afford a peaceful (and carefree) life. She tells him that this is one of the lies killers are telling themselves, which could mean that killers come to actually like their jobs (and the high amounts of easy money coming with successful hits), so that they would hate to quit or that demanding middlemen/clients won’t let them retire, even if they wanted. In this context, the twitch would be a hint at a possible sequel, and at him not believing his own statement.

    • It is a weird moment. There’s clicking that comes in right at the end when he sits down. Like a clock. And when he closes his eyes, the ticking stops. And also a sharp note that reaches its peak then cuts with the ticking. Both are stress-centric sounds. And how he twitches and closes his eyes is a bit strange. But Fincher said “Never say never” to the idea of a sequel. I don’t think he would say that if the guy suddenly kicked the bucket. The “simplest” answer is that it’s hard for him to relax. His girlfriend does a deep, relaxing sigh right before. Then the camera shifts to him, as if it’s his turn. So it might just be him awkwardly being normal? I would lean toward that, as we don’t have much else to go on.

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