LIDO, Venice, Italy – Michael Fassbender may be “The Killer” but like Hitchcock or Spielberg, it is director David Fincher who looms large as its real star.
A violent, often black-humored descent into the mindset of a professional hit man, “The Killer” world-premiered Sunday night at the Venice Film Festival minus Fassbender and co-star Tilda Swinton due to the actors’ strike.
Cinema has a long and venerable tradition of the lone assassin, which Fincher, 61, said in a press conference was appealing.
Assassins are attractive because, “It’s a very simple, compelling straight line drawn. We took something people know — the goals of an assassin – which is fun to illustrate. It’s high stakes. It’s also extremely procedural before you exhale and pull the trigger.
“But I think this is more a revenge movie than an assassin movie. The corpses he leaves on the side of the road don’t fit in any way shape or form on the schedule he has for himself.”
Which is part of the joke, the disconnect between what we hear him repeatedly say about what his method must be and the wildly different way he ends up dispatching his six enemies.
“If you’re talking about really heinous violence it’s good to have a little humor in there,” said Fincher who knows that score from “Gone Girl” and “Fight Club.”
Easily the film’s stand-out action sequence is a hand to hand battle to the death between two killers. Ren Klyce, an Oscar-winning sound authority and longtime Fincher associate, noted how in this fight scene, “David’s approach is very different from ‘Fight Club.’ Here he wanted an intimacy between these two men — and he didn’t want to hear vocalization. He had a different approach for what David wanted the audience to feel: He wanted the most deadly, quietest fight with no vocals.”
“I liked the idea,” Fincher said, “of a dark house and two assassins fighting. They both have long histories and one of them is going to finish the job.”
Fassbender was his only choice but casting and production had to work around, Fincher noted, “Michael’s whole other career” as a racecar driver. “We had to slot it into his driving schedule.”
Fassbender shines by easily and clearly communicating the killer’s considerable contradictions. “There is an aspect to this character who is extremely sociopathic and Michael allows us to show, to dramatize, that by choosing to never give anything away.
“Sympathy was the last thing I had in mind as it relates to this character,” Fincher added. “We wanted somebody who didn’t need to be frightening — the banality of evil. My hope is someone will see this film and get very nervous about the person behind them in the line at Home Depot.”
“The Killer” opens theatrically Oct. 2 before streaming on Netflix Nov. 10.
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