The story of “The Killer” starts with great promise. The son of the notorious hitman Seven Ears, who has been trained to kill even better than his father, ventures into a brutal town of murderers, scoundrels and corruption in search of his lost father. “The Killer,” the first Netflix original film produced in Brazil, is a gorgeously shot, complex, strange fairytale western that unfortunately boils down to intensely unlikeable characters shooting one another in the head until the audience is numb and a little bored.
The film begins with an unknown man in the woods, who is forced by two intimidating looking men to tell them a story in a “Princess Bride”-esque fashion. The man begins weaving his tale, and a very colorful world in the Badlands of South America takes shape. There are warring groups of dangerous mercenaries, the Cangacieros and the Monkeys, composed of hard-bitten, incredibly well-costumed men on horseback. There is a merciless French mayor, Monseiur Blanchard, and his evil wife, and most importantly there is the main character Cabaleira, son of Seven Ears, who journeys into this violent world to find his lost father. All of this sets up a dynamic and interesting world that seems like it will be very interesting but the film quickly starts to lose its momentum and charm.
Cabeleira (Diogo Morgado) is maybe one of the most unlikeable main characters in any film I’ve ever seen. His wild hair, patchy beard and eyes that remain constantly wide open as if he has just been electrocuted make him look much more like an insane person than a charismatic or interesting main character. His search for his father seems to drive the plot at first but then almost seems to be forgotten after Cabeleira is hired by Monsieur Blanchard (Etienne Chicot) as a hitman.
Cabeleira loses his charisma and purpose quickly, becoming addicted to sex, money and murder to such a degree that I stopped rooting for him entirely. Even when the film gives him a cute son as a plot device to redeem him somewhat, he’s just not a lead character who viewers will want to see succeed.
The film seems to want to tell several different stories at once, and in doing so fails to follow any of the story threads it begins to any sort of satisfying end. The two warring gangs spar briefly, engage in a few acts of horrifying physical and sexual violence and then drop from the map. A man who has his family killed by Monsieur Blanchard’s hired men seems poised to kill Blanchard and get revenge, but is instead handedly murdered and forgotten. Even Cabeleira is absent for around a 40-minute span of the film.
There are so many interesting conclusions that the film could have reached, but the end it arrives at feels like more of the same—more guys shooting each other in the head. In the end the moral of the story, stated very plainly by the narrator, is one everyone has heard a thousand times before—greed corrupts, money is evil. The excessive violence seems to be trying to make some statement as well, but ends up just seeming gratuitous and a little sadistic rather than poignant or realistic. Under all the poetry of language, beautiful images and strange characters, the film ends up not having too much new to say.
Overall, “The Killer” has a lot going for it. Its world is beautiful, odd, poetic and very unique—I just wish they had used the fantastic setting to tell a more interesting story.