You Kill Me
2007, R, 92 min. Directed by John Dahl. Starring Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni, Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall, Bill Pullman, Marcus Thomas.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., July 13, 2007
Cuddlier and more charming, this alcoholic-hitman comedy isn’t your typical Dahl noir (The Last Seduction, Red Rock West), but it is offbeat, lovably deadpan, and just tart enough. Its antihero, Frank (Kingsley), is a gunman for the Polish mob in Buffalo, N.Y. (it’s a small franchise, and Chinese money is moving in). He’s the kind of guy who tosses a bottle of vodka into the snow and drinks his way down the sidewalk, shoveling out as he goes. When he bottoms out and botches a hit, mob lord Uncle Roman (Hall) has him abducted for a special family intervention: “You can’t work for us. And we can’t let you work for anyone else.” So Frank relocates to San Francisco to work the Alcoholics Anonymous program, finding a sponsor (Wilson, beautifully tight-lipped as a touchy-feely toll taker), a high-powered girlfriend (Leoni, perfectly prickly), and possibly a second chance. Frank’s job is the movie’s best joke: Everybody in AA is so supportive and accepting that they can’t object when Frank says killing people is his life’s work and he wants to be better at it. Marcelo Zarvos’ zippy concertina-and-guitar score counterpoints scenes of crackling good dialogue (“I didn’t know I was an alcoholic until recently. I’m from Buffalo.”), delivered wryly by Kingsley, who’s at the absolute top of his game here. His relationship with Leoni is a bit much to swallow at times; her smart raincoats, sensible flats, clipped manner, and patrician bearing make her an unlikely romantic heroine, but this is, after all, an unlikely romantic comedy. Pullman almost manages to steal the movie in a delightfully stiff, horn-rimmed performance as a real estate agent so amoral he trolls the morgue in search of vacancies not yet announced – the Bay area’s truest villain. The gangland grit maxes out with a home-invasion set-piece reminiscent of Miller’s Crossing, and the lovers practice their slashing and hacking skills on an unlucky watermelon. But ultimately the movie stands as a testament to grownup love, the kind where all faults are exposed and dealt with, one day at a time.