What do Chinese critics in the UK think about David Fincher’s latest epic?
After a hiatus of 13 years, David Fincher has finally made his much-anticipated return to the upper echelons of the film festival circuit with his 12th film, The Killer, which is featured in the main competition lineup of the Venice Film Festival this year. Interestingly, Fincher’s previous encounter with the Venice Film Festival, marked by Fight Club, despite its current world-renown reputation, was met with intense debate among critics, leading to accusations of being a ‘fascist’. Yet apparently, despite the resemblance in the noir genre with his previous films, The Killer has garnered a more favorable reception, securing the 3rd position in the Critics grid.
Adapted from the French graphic novel series of the same name, The Killer is essentially Fincher’s take on a John Wick style narrative. The film unfolds a story of a solitary, cold-blooded assassin who faces a fateful near-miss and embarks on an international vendetta.
As noted, this noir narrative is reminiscent of some of his most iconic works such as Se7en, Zodiac and Fight Club, with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker being Fincher’s former collaborator back in Se7en.
Acknowledging the film’s adherence to traditional elements, Fincher’s distinctive style remains discernible through familiar audiovisual elements, including wet streets in night scenes and characteristic blue and yellow lighting.
The execution level of fighting scenes, where his adept use of camera movement can be frequently observed, offers a refreshing choreography that has been missing in recent Hollywood productions.
While the The Killer showcases Fincher’s stylish film languages, some aspects mark a radical departure from his usual approach. Unlike his usual calm and rational style, the film introduces a more extensive use of monologues and narration from the protagonist which, while initially captivating, feels stretched over the two-hour runtime, deviating from his typical tone of brutal and solitary noir storytelling.
The background music, prominently featuring The Smiths, constitutes an abrupt departure from his previous ‘background noise’ approach, diminishing the film’s overall impact. Most importantly, this film fails to capture the essence of what Fincher has excelled at in the past – the boldness, sharpness, and outrage characteristic in those masculinity-related storytelling that have distinguished his past achievements. However fine this film is, The Killer lacks the greatness one might expect from a David Fincher production.
Following this competent yet unexceptional addition to Fincher’s filmography, with Netflix serving as the distributor for the second time, I am reminded of how Fincher once talked about modern cinema in the context of the streaming era – ‘The cinema isn’t dead. It just does something different. The place is still filled with kids, it’s just they’re all on their phones. It’s a social event like a bonfire, and the movie is the bonfire. It’s why people gather but it’s not actually there to be looked at…Because the bonfire is always the same.’ (The Financial Times, 2017)
Admittedly, this perspective is less alarmist compared to other directors such as Martin Scorsese who provocatively proclaimed that cinema is dead, but if this suggests a departure from Fincher’s distinctive style towards more conventional bonfire films, it may prompt a reconsideration and leave some fans yearning for his earlier ‘fascist’ style.