However, the entire first half hour of the film is devoted to his meticulous planning coming to naught since the misstep of an unanticipated third party causes him to miss a kill shot. As a consequence, Fassbender goes from the hunter of the many to the one hunted by a few. While we never see exactly what happened, we are invited to piece together that Fassbender’s facilitator (Charles Parnell) sold him out, and two assassins were hired to snip the loose end of a hitman who seemingly can’t shoot straight. The result is Fassbender’s girlfriend ending up in the hospital, with apparently a “Brute” (Sala Baker) and Swinton’s Expert to blame.
When Fassbender finally catches up with the Expert near the end of the film, she is having a lavish dinner for a party of one at a swanky restaurant which knows her so well that she doesn’t even have to name the brand of whisky she drinks. And rather than try to simply murder her in the dark or on the road, Fassbender’s Killer decides to sit down at the table with the Swinton character. He wants to look her in the eye.
The sequence is illuminating because we see two kindred spirits who are nonetheless diametrically opposed in personalities and temperament. Swinton’s Expert is extroverted, warm, and ingratiating. The veteran actor plays her with a subtle touch of grace which suggests she really does enjoy being around people, even sharing what sounds like a sincere laugh with her favorite waiter before Fassbender and his concealed gun grab a chair. And upon facing what looks like her imminent doom, the charm is only ratcheted up as she attempts to subtly reason with Fassbender that it wasn’t personal, just business, and besides it was the “Brute” he already dealt with in Florida that put his girlfriend in the hospital. Or so she says.
Whereas Fassbender’s Killer is remote and self-justifying, Swinton’s Expert is outgoing and sober-eyed about what it is she does, and why she is now about to die for it. Or is she? Everything she says in this scene is intended to elicit sympathy, or at least a sense of camaraderie shared by associates in the same line of work. She succeeds insofar as getting a laugh out of Fassbender when she tells a story about a hunter who keeps trying to kill a bear that sodomizes him each day after he misses his shot. By the third day, the bear at last squints at the hunter and asks, “You’re not here for the hunting are you?”
So it is that Fassbender is not at this table for just a dish of cold-blooded revenge. He could’ve killed the Expert at her home or on the street, but he was desperate; not to kill her, but to gauge whether he really is a better assassin or if he’s just lucky to not be the one about to pay the final bill.
Fassbender is terrific in the movie at exuding a largely nonverbal physicality which reveals only flickers of emotions and second guesses beneath the Killer’s placid exterior. But for nine minutes of screen time, Swinton stops by to completely decimate his facade of implacability. He really is craving conversation, a problem Swinton’s character doesn’t seem to have. She enjoys her life and seemingly made peace with what she’s done to get it. The actress plays these emotions with a wearied dignity, like a lioness who stands proud over the gazelle she’s killed, even as a human with a spear comes to take it away. While we do not actually hear the Killer’s internal monologue in this sequence, one wonders if he is assessing himself to truly be the better assassin because he would never sit in a posh restaurant and order dessert.