Is David Fincher’s ‘The Killer’ a Comedy?

Welcome to the (maybe) most misunderstood movie of the year.

Nick Kolakowski
3 min readDec 1, 2023

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Given his penchant for ultra-dark cinematography, twisted characters, and brutal endings, it’s easy to forget that David Fincher is more than capable of slipping a comedic beat or two into his movies. A murderer’s use of an ultra-sappy Enya song during a torture sequence in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” or Kevin Spacey’s bone-dry witticisms in “Seven,” are just two examples of Fincher lightening the mood a tad.

Fincher’s latest film, “The Killer,” likewise features some funny bits: the titular assassin’s use of sitcom characters’ names on his fake IDs, or how he turns to Amazon to instantly order a device that will allow him to bypass a building’s supposedly ironclad security. But is the movie an outright comedy? That’s a question I keep turning over in my mind.

At least on the surface, “The Killer” plays like the latest in a long line of existential assassin movies extending back to “Le Samourai” and beyond. The Killer is alone, isolated from the rest of society, and utterly consumed by the minutiae of his work. When he botches a hit, his employer sends other assassins to annihilate him. The rest, as you might expect, is a series of gunfights and stealthy maneuvers as he tries to extract himself from the consequences of his mistake.

The relentless pace (the movie has a tight runtime of 118 minutes), noirish environment, and techno-dirge soundtrack (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) give the movie an ultra-serious gloss, but there’s an underlying weirdness that separates it from other assassin movies. The Killer (Michael Fassbender) speaks to the audience in voiceover, narrating each meticulous step of his kills — and yet he relies on the most banal cliches, and frequently forgets to follow his own advice. Every few scenes, he gets something catastrophically wrong, such as how long it takes a human being to bleed out with a nail in their chest, or the correct amount of drug needed to knock out a large dog.

By the end of the film, he’s less the epitome of the ice-cold assassin than a weirdo you’d hire because nobody else was available; you might not even trust him to watch your cat for the weekend, lest he accidentally let the animal out and burn your house down. It works as a deconstruction of the hitman genre, but did Fincher intend all this to be bust-a-gut funny?

I think the answer is “yes”: switch out the soundtrack to something a little jauntier, maybe play up some of the beats and reveals in the editing suite, and you’d have something you could outright shelve in the Bleak Comedy section. But Fincher won’t commit to quite that degree; he needs to infuse everything he touches with a hefty dose of darkness. That leaves “The Killer” as an odd, intriguing, and often frustrating little flick.

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Nick Kolakowski

Writer, editor, author of 'Maxine Unleashes Doomsday' and 'Boise Longpig Hunting Club.'