2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE! What I’ve always liked about the French is that their films aren’t as obsessed with story and plot as ours are, instead focusing on the pure joy of storytelling. You just have to go to a Bistro and listen to the local “Raconteur” to see how lively with passion and soul the French can be. The guy could be talking about nothing and it’ll still be fascinating.
So when the French do have something to say, as in the case of “Le Tueur (The Killer),” then it achieves a kind of magnificence that few works can match.
“Le Tueur” is about Leo Zimmerman, an investment banker whom someone wants dead and Dimitri Kopas, the hitman sent to kill him. The film begins with Kopas following Leo around getting a feel for his movements and trying to find an opening so he can make his move, which isn’t easy because Zimmerman knows he’s being tailed. However, after a few days of being chased, an exhausted Leo confronts Dimitri and makes a deal with the killer: Let him live a few more days so he can get his affairs in order and he’ll go quietly. All he asks is not to suffer. He can’t take looking over his shoulder and being afraid anymore and knows that even if he did manage to somehow outwit Dimitri, there would only be another hitman sent in his place.
The storytelling here is top notch. We get to see Dimitri’s soft, human side as he putters around his hotel room giggling at porn, and his cold, murderous side as prepares for his hit. Likewise, Leo is fleshed out equally well. On the one hand he seems to be a junkie involved in some nefarious deeds, but on the other he seems like a genuinely concerned family man.
Let me give you a few examples at how well this movie works. There’s one scene that takes place at the Zimmerman dinner table where Leo seems annoyed at his wife coming in late. In any other movie (Read: “American”) this would be followed by a huge generic husband VS wife fight. Not here. Instead, we simply fade to black and that’s it. The scene told us what we needed to know and then moves on. The same thing occurs the first time Dimitri and Leo meet face to face early in the film when Dimitri is posing as a client in order to get close to his target and check out where he works. Many films would have included lots of verbal parrying between the two, not “Le Tueur”. Instead, it skips over much of the scene, fading in and out of the conversation to let us see only what we need. Literally, all the “boring” bits have been removed, and thank Christ for that. It’s nice to see a movie be clever about necessary exposition for once.
Sure, the lonely hitman has been used in movies so often that he’s now become a stock character like the obsessed cop or the hooker with a heart of gold or the wise old black man, but it doesn’t matter because this movie doesn’t much care about archetypes. What it does care about is what these archetypes do and say, and with fully fleshing them out for maximum effect.
“Le Tueur” begins with a man running from a killer, and ends with a killer searching for the truth about his target, but what it’s really about is two men at a crossroads in their lives who are on the threshold of facing the truth about themselves. It’s told in a beautiful poetic style that very few other films can match. Purely French and extremely well made, “Le Tueur” is one of those movies that you can’t help liking.