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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

Quick Reviews: 'To Catch A Killer', 'The Killer' | Thriller, Crime, Shailene Woodley, David Fincher

Shailene Woodley in a cop uniform, Michael Fassbender sitting and holding a burger
To Catch A Killer (L), The Killer (R)


What if movie titles were actually good or at the very least not worsened when they're retitled before release? Then again, maybe that's not the right question to ask. To Catch A Killer, or not to catch a killer, now that might be the question. Directed, edited and co-written by Damián Szifron, this gritty crime drama introduces us to Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley), a Baltimore police officer who responds to a call about a string of murders committed by a sniper on New Year's Eve when fireworks are covering their tracks. A citywide manhunt ensues, led by FBI agent Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) who takes notice of Eleanor's initiatives and knowledge. Eleanor, Lammark and agent Jack McKenzie (Jovan Adepo) begin to narrow down the net of people capable of planning such bloodshed, steering them toward an off-the-radar recluse (Ralph Ineson), while we also learn about Eleanor's career struggles.

There's a genuine internal battle between comfort and staleness that Szifron and co-writer Jonathan Wakeham cook up with this one. ''Killer'' won't be getting any points for originality, primarily because they seem to overly Americanise their approach, despite the former being an outsider, as well as hamming that up with generic, bleak dialogue along the way. On the other hand, Szifron fills the frames much more potently with detailed backgrounds, interesting encounters and a surprising sense of scope for a story like this, underscored by composer Carter Burwell's moody pianos and vibrations.

Woodley, Mendelsohn and Adepo all manage to craft believable portraits out of their characters—even if Eleanor's arc doesn't quite dig as deep as you'd wish—whilst Ineson helps them to land the plane with his scarily effective turn. His influence mostly counts in the final third of the film, which is by far its strongest section because the tension, focus and acting prowess all peak then. It is at that point that the story becomes about loathing rather than a cat-and-mouse game between cops and crooks, which is scary because unresolved feelings are more shocking than gun violence when you're already used to that being a problem.

Smileys: Ending, Ralph Ineson

Frowneys: Dialogue


Shailene Woodley in a police uniform, crossing her arms
Vertical Entertainment


Of the many lies told by the American filmmaking complex, my personal favourite is their claim that you don't need a captivating story as long as there are guns and killing. Director David Fincher's gloomy thriller The Killer repeats that mantra, along with many other mantras in fact, as it tries to tackle the life of an assassin with a slightly colder touch. Adapted from Alexis ''Matz'' Nolent and Luc Jacamon's graphic novel series of the same name, the film finds our titular character (Michael Fassbender) in Paris where he's preparing to eliminate a new target. After failing to do so and then finding his girlfriend Magdala (Sophie Charlotte) hurt from an attack, ''The Killer'' begins to hunt his colleagues responsible for said attack across the United States, those colleagues being played by names such as Tilda Swinton (The Expert) and Charles Parnell (The Lawyer).

Tonally Fincher is exploring a fairly new mode here, which is interesting on its own, but that tone also comes with a lot of contradictions. Surprisingly it's the humour and dry wordplay—perhaps taken from the source material but adjusted by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker—that is the main hook here. Lines about nice, quiet drownings and reflection on the beast that is consumerism earn chuckles and tells a lot about our main character, notably when combined with props or Cate Adams' costume design (German tourist camo!). The problem is that Fassbender isn't adding to any of it because of his poor vocal performance or otherwise rusty presence. Whether or not your thriller is outwardly explosive or not, you need magnetism. With a tone like this, you can and should sacrifice emotion but not urgency.

In addition to compelling performances (Swinton also snoozes through her outing), it would be essential to also have a clever, tight story around the quips and blunders but that's not really the case. This type of senseless globetrotting isn't any more fun when overseen by Fincher than it is in generic action blockbusters because Fincher and his collaborators drain the life out of the movie and its story with overly stylised visuals and shallow characters. That means enduring a lot of filler and not a lot of killer sadly.

Smileys: Humour

Frowneys: Acting, story


Michael Fassbender sitting on a park bench, holding a burger

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