Michael Fassbender returned to the big screen at the Venice Film Festival Sunday after years away as a racing driver, playing a cold-blooded assassin in David Fincher’s Netflix film The Killer

The German-Irish actor took up professional motor racing in 2017, joining the Ferrari Challenge and later the European Le Mans Series. 

He stepped away from an acting career that had seen him mix blockbusters like the X-Men franchise with hard-hitting roles in 12 Years a Slave and Hunger.

“Had we not been able to fit into his window between racing seasons, we probably wouldn’t have made the movie,” said Fincher, adding they wanted someone menacing but not “too frightening”. 

“I like very much the idea of someone seeing this film and getting nervous about the person behind them in line at Home Depot,” Fincher joked. 

The Killer is a darkly comic but propulsive revenge film that sees Fassbender’s gunman try to stay focused and professional but constantly forced to improvise as events get out of hand.

It got a much warmer reception than Fight Club, which was famously booed in Venice in 1999 before becoming a cult hit.

The Guardian gave The Killer five stars, saying Fincher carries it off with “terrific flair and Fassbender’s careworn, inscrutable face is just right for it”.

Some felt it lacked surprises, with Playlist calling it “entertaining but a little orthodox”.  

Strike hits red carpet

The ongoing Hollywood strike meant Fassbender and co-star Tilda Swinton were unable to attend the premiere of The Killer at the Venice Film Festival, where he won the acting award in 2011 for his role as a sex addict in Shame

The strike by actors and writers, primarily over pay in the streaming era and the potential threat of AI, has robbed the Venice red carpet of several big stars this week, including Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper who won rave reviews for Poor Thing and Maestro, respectively. 

Lea Seydoux was also a no-show for Sunday’s premiere of The Beast, a well-received film about AI and era-hopping love in the style of David Lynch. 

The producers read out a message saying it was “difficult for Lea (and British co-star George MacKay) to come here and celebrate with the acute awareness that thousands of actors and writers are struggling to sustain their livelihoods”.

Fincher has been closely associated with Netflix, one of the main targets of the strike, as producer of its first major hit show House of Cards, as well as Mindhunter.

“This movie was made through the pandemic. We just got done with three years of having to set our brushes down and walk away, and the idea of that continuing on is very sad to me,” the director told reporters. 

“I can understand both sides. I think all we can do is encourage them to talk.”

The Killer sees Fincher reteam with Andrew Kevin Walker, writer of his breakout thriller Seven

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