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This review was written for the screening at the Tribeca Film Festival.
NEW YORK — If you would believe Hollywood movies, hit men are usually lovable figures whose professional lives are hampered by psychological angst that can usually be alleviated by therapy. Or, in the case of “You Kill Me,” in which the protagonist has a drinking problem, with a 12-step program. John Dahl’s black comedy might not win any points for originality, but its razor-sharp script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and the hilariously deadpan comic performances by Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni make it a consistent pleasure. Recently showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film is scheduled for a commercial release in the summer by IFC Films.
Kingsley plays Frank, a Polish hit man in Buffalo who has bungled more than a few jobs because of his propensity for getting drunk on the job. When he fumbles the killing of a Greek mobster (Dennis Farina) who is his boss’ (Philip Baker Hall) chief rival, he’s sent to dry out in San Francisco.
There, thanks to the help of his handler (Bill Pullman), he gets a job as an undertaker’s assistant and begins attending AA meetings. Although initially resistant, he’s taken under the wing of a friendly fellow member (Luke Wilson) and soon begins to open up, confessing to the startled group not only his addiction but also his profession.
He also begins a relationship with the beautiful and acerbic Laurel (Leoni), who seems to have little problem with either Frank’s alcoholism or the way he makes his living. Frank’s idyllic recovery is eventually interrupted when the mobster he neglected to eliminate begins raising trouble for his employers.
While the film attempts a level of absurdity that it doesn’t quite successfully bring off — Laurel’s quick acceptance of Frank’s lifestyle is never convincing, for instance — it does mark the most hilarious depiction of a professional killer’s angst since “Grosse Pointe Blank.” The script’s subtle humor is consistently hilarious (Frank points out at the AA meeting that he never knew he had a drinking problem because he lives in Buffalo), and its comic gems are perfectly realized by the terrific performances and the deceptively atmospheric direction by Dahl.
Kingsley, not always known for his restraint, underplays beautifully as Frank, ultimately becoming an unlikely but entirely winning figure. And while Leoni is simply too stunningly gorgeous to render Laurel’s romantic desperation convincing, she too finds just the right comic tone. There is also wonderfully funny work by Wilson, Farina, Pullman and a variety of perfectly cast supporting players.
YOU KILL ME
Bipolar Pictures, Carol Baum Prods., Code Entertainment, Echo Lake Prods., Green Tulip Prods.
Director: John Dahl
Screenwriters: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Producers: Al Corley, Burt Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso, Carol Baum, Mike Marcus, Zvi Howard Rosenman
Executive producers: Tea Leoni, Jonathan Dana
Director of photography: Jeffrey Jur
Production designer: John Dondertman
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Co-producer: Kim Olson
Costume designer: Linda Madden
Editor: Scott Chestnut
Frank: Ben Kingsley
Laurel: Tea Leoni
Tom: Luke Wilson
Roman: Philip Baker Hall
O’Leary: Dennis Farina
Dave: Bill Pullman
Stef: Marcus Thomas
Doris: Alison Sealy-Smith
Running time — 92 minutes
No MPAA rating
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