You Kill Me
directed by John Dahl
starring Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Luke Wilson, Bill Pullman, Phillip Baker Hall, Dennis Farina
Code Entertainment/IFC Films
Frank Falenczyk is bad man. Despite years of rubbing out the lowest of the low, this methodical, calculated hitman has lost his edge, recessing deeper and deeper into a prolonged alcoholic addiction.
Frank’s drinking has become an issue at a critical time. A turf war is brewing in Buffalo between Frank’s Polish Mafia family, led by his uncle Roman, and an aggressive Irish gang led by Edward O’ Leary, a businessman eager to consolidate his power.
When Frank’s alcoholism causes him to screw up on the job, his uncle Roman tows the hard line and dispatches Frank to sunny San Francisco to sober up. On the left coast Frank definitely is a stranger in a strange land. He’s under the watch of a seedy real estate agent named Dave who’s been assigned by Roman to keep him on the straight and narrow. Dave hooks Frank up with a nice apartment and keeps him undercover as a mortuary attendant while insisting that he attend AA meetings.
Initially resistant to his program, Frank changes his mind after meeting Tom, his AA sponsor. Tom is a stabilizing influence, slowing down Frank’s intense lifestyle and helping him navigate the difficult road through alcoholism.
Things become even more complicated when Frank meets his match in the feisty Lauren Pearson, a TV advertising executive who stops by the funeral home after the sudden passing of her stepfather. Lauren’s glib tongue and cynical disposition provide the perfect counterbalance to Frank’s acerbic and somber outlook.
Over time things pick up for Frank. His off kilter relationship with Lauren blossoms; he sticks to his guns with his AA program and enjoys his work. In spite of all of the positive change, Frank is eager to get back to his old job of killing people.
The opportunity presents itself after O’ Leary goes on the warpath in Buffalo. This stirs a rested and ready Frank to spring back into action and settle the score on his own terms.
In his greatest turn since Sexy Beast, Ben Kingsley commandeers the film and carries it. Tea Leoni is the perfect accomplice as Laurel. Her take-charge attitude and bruised vulnerability are the perfect foil for loosening the tightly wound Frank. She holds her own with Sir Ben and makes the chemistry between them believable. The only drawback is that the plot never delves into her character’s background, depriving Leoni of an opportunity to do more with the role.
They are abetted by a terrific supporting cast that includes Luke Wilson as the sublime and serene Tom, Phillip Baker Hall as Roman and a scene stealing performance from Bill Pullman as the sleazy Dave. Dennis Farina is perfectly slimy as O’ Leary.
John Dahl’s (Rounders) stylish direction fits perfectly around the sly, street-savvy script from Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely. Dahl’s direction succeeds because he understands comedic timing and gets the best performances from his ensemble cast. Dahl is known for splashing his films with crime thriller elements and sprinkling them with mobster bloodbaths to create emotion and frame the comedy. With You Kill Me, we see a director coming into his own and making a film that covers several bases without skipping a beat.
You Kill Me marks the welcome Oscar-worthy return of Ben Kingsley to the A-List of powerhouse actors, freeing him from the typecasting of Gandhi and the poor casting of Bloodrayne. Kingsley’s scenery-chewing performance makes You Kill Me a highly inventive, well executed black comedy.