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You could think of "The Killer" as a character study of someone who has no character.

Michael Fassbender has the title role, a man whose name we don't know but who uses a plethora of '70s sitcom names (and, vexingly, one '80s sitcom name) as aliases. They come in handy as he hops from country to country after a job goes sideways in Paris and other hitmen are unleashed on him. The plan? Kill before he's killed.

David Fincher's film — incredibly, his first to have widespread showings in theaters since "Gone Girl" nine years ago — is a stylized, lean crime drama. In its obsession with surfaces and design, as well as its hero's demonstration of an odd moral code, it reminded me of classic French thrillers by Jean-Pierre Melville, who made "Le Samourai" and "Army of Shadows."

"The Killer" is more single-minded than those films, with a title that functions both as character name and plot description. There are no subplots, no flashbacks, no side trips in "Killer," which proceeds from one hit to the next. Fincher often skips ahead — a shot of a car in daylight is suddenly a shot of that same car at night — as if to demonstrate how thoroughly the main character controls what happens in every scene.

The thriller doesn't do anything revolutionary, but it does what it does as well as any movie this year. There isn't a wasted second or misplaced word. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' showy score — built on electronic blips, industrial rasps and distorted sounds that resemble goat bleats — establishes a mood of suspense and unease while the dark-dark-dark visuals keep us off balance (one fight takes place at night, in an unlit house, where both combatants can be seen only in shadows).

Fassbender, in the title role, narrates as if he's recording an audiobook guide for assassins and he barely speaks outside the narration. He's weirdly charismatic, even though his character is amoral (until the final scenes) and Fassbender is rocking one of those measured, blankly unplaceable American accents that actors often use to play maniacs. There's also yet another boldly confident supporting performance by Tilda Swinton as the canniest of the Killer's targets.

"The Killer" messes around with something movies are uniquely suited for: identification. Why, for instance, do we root for Fassbender's character even though he seems no better or worse than the other violent creeps? Because "The Killer" tells us to. But, once we're on his side (because we're privy to his thoughts), we become fascinated by whether there may be something that separates him from the others. He declares, "I'm not exceptional," in one of the first bits of dialogue but I bet you'll find yourself trying to figure out what is exceptional about him as you parse the decisions he makes. And the decisions Fincher makes.

Next time I see "The Killer," I'll be paying more attention to how what we're being shown jibes with what Fassbender's narration is telling us about his motives and methods. And, oh yeah, there will definitely be a "next time."

'The Killer'
***½ out of 4 stars
Rated: R for bloody violence and strong language.
Where: In theaters. Streaming on Netflix Nov. 10.