I had been avoiding doing reviews of dark, depressing drama when I began my daily blog last May. However, with this being my 208th review (click here for a link to them all), I’ve reached the point that I’m confident enough to work with them. Today I’m looking at a little-remembered film called “You Kill Me” that didn’t do well at the box office despite offering a stellar effort from just about everyone on screen. The depressing nature of “You Kill Me” might have something to do with it, but you cannot go wrong if you want to see tremendous acting. Check it out, but if you are easily disturbed by bodies (but only when the hitman’s working at a funeral home) or don’t want to be dragged through a dark passage by most characters, then don’t bother because this one can be disturbing.
‘You Kill Me’
(2007; 93 minutes; rated R; directed by John Dahl and starring Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni and Luke Wilson)
REDEMPTION AND AN ALCOHOLIC HITMAN
(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional opinion, some more trivia and the updating of some links on Feb. 28, 2016.)
You’ll find a few laughs in “You Kill Me,” but they’re low-key and more subtle than something like a Robin Williams monologue. It’s because while “You Kill Me” tries to be a bit quirky with its plot twists, it is at its heart a dark drama that deals with the degradation of the human spirit. Of course, there’s redemption … but it’s somewhat hollow at the end after all the damaged souls that have passed on screen.
Still, director John Rahl, who was responsible for the terrific poker movie “Rounders” with Matt Damon (click here for my review), and actors Ben Kingsley and Téa Leoni – with a nice kick-in by Luke Wilson – make this film an actor’s film. It’s not flashy or over-adventurous. It is completely character and dialogue driven (although seeing Kingsley standing in a politician’s office in his underwear before threatening him with handgun is humorous).
In “You Kill Me,” Kingsley is the best hitman for a mob in Buffalo. However, he’s got this serious case of alcoholism (he sweeps snow from his front stoop by swigging from a vodka bottle and tossing it to another step and then cleaning down far enough for another shot). He gets sent by the boss to dry out in San Francisco, where he becomes involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and is given a job at a funeral home.
Kingsley, who plays “Frank Falenczyk,” meets Leoni, who plays “Laurel Pearson,” and both are lonely and in search (each in their individual way) of companionship. Through the middle part of the film Kingsley gets involved with A.A. and begins working on his sobriety, especially after falling off the wagon at an Irish funeral (stereotype alert!). His life is also affected by his “sponsor,” Luke Wilson playing “Tom,” as well as the mob’s connection in San Francisco – Bill Pullman, who plays shady real estate man “Dave.”
One of the low-key humorous scenes is where Kingsley, while telling his life story at a meeting, confesses multiple murders and to being a hired killer to a room full of people. When Wilson asks if he should have done that, Kingsley replies, “It’s Alcoholics Anonymous.” Wilson retorts, “Somehow I don’t really feel that’s what they had in mind when they came up with the name, but you never know.” Just like Kingsley making amends to people he has harmed by sending gift cards to the families of his victims, I’m not sure how the A.A. organization would evaluate this form of cinematic comedy.
In any case, Kingsley, who by now has become enamored of Leoni and the two are in a relationship, has to head back to Buffalo to help settle a gang dispute in the way he knows best. However, now he has a helper – Leoni. It all turns out well or everyone (except the rival gang boss and most of Kingsley’s mob friends in Buffalo).
Here’s a look at some of the principal cast:
- The Oscar-winning Kingsley is simply perfectly cast in this role. He’s the right age (late middle age) for both his character’s history as a killer and an alcoholic as well as playing off the romance with a younger woman (in real life, he is just over 22 years older than Leoni). Kinglsey gets so absorbed in this character that it just screams out from the screen. Kingsley won his Oscar for “Gandhi” and nominated for three others. He was also in “Sneakers” with Robert Redford (click here for my review) as well as “Schindler’s List” and “Dave” (click here for my review).
- Leoni is at her dramatic best in this one. She’s just enough off-handedly distracted at first and grows in the relationship with Kingsley to reveal her true talent. She never overwhelms any scene, but each one she’s in would have been something less without her. Leoni has been in a variety of types of films from “Jurassic Park III” (click here for my review) to the remake of “Fun With Dick and Jane” with Jim Carrey to the holiday-themed film “The Family Man” with Nicolas Cage (click here for my review).
- Wilson is appropriately smooth here as Kingsley’s A.A. sponsor. Just like all the actors, he’s playing a bit low-key here and does a good job of conveying his character’s non-judgmental attitude towards Kingsley’s flaws (even when he finds out that Kingsley is a killer – in a neat scene at Wilson’s job as a toll attendant). Wilson has also been in “Old School” and “Legally Blonde” as well as the little-known film early in his career called “Bongwater.”
- Pullman is suitably creepy as the guy keeping an eye on Kingsley for the mob. He’s in shady deals and makes odd comments while often forgetting the deadly nature of Kingsley’s background. Pullman looks like he having a good time with the weird character and you’ll enjoy him, too. Pullman isn’t as over-the-top here as he was in his first film, “Ruthless People” (click here for my review) and he’s also been in “Independence Day” and was wonderfully low-key (but in a very positive way) in “While You Were Sleeping” with Sandra Bullock (click here for my review).
- Two veteran supporting actors play gang bosses here. Philip Baker Hall plays “Roman Krzeminski” and Dennis Farina plays “Edward O’Leary.” Hall is Kingsley’s boss and friend while Farina is the opposing boss. Hall, who has been in everything from movies to TV spots such as “Monk,” is volatile but supportive of Kingsley getting sober, even when it hurts in the battle against Farina. Farina has a great showdown with Kingsley and you’ve already guessed the outcome of this one. Farina, who died last year, was in “Saving Private Ryan” and “Manhunter” (click here for my review). He was especially funny in “Big Trouble” with Tim Allen (click here for my review).
All in all, “You Kill Me” has exceptional work by a wonderful supporting cast.
I have to say I’m puzzled about the box office performance of “You Kill Me.” It had an anemic total of $2.4 million for 209th place at theaters, according to Box Office Mojo. This number almost makes me believe that it was initially released on cable. It was first released at the noted Tribeca Film Festival in April 2007 and then again at another festival two months later. IMDb.com notes that it then went into limited release in the U.S. And then that’s that.
The No. 1 film of the year was “Spider-Man 3” with $336.5 million. Here are a few films from that year that I have reviewed:
- “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” (hilarious) – click here for my review
- “Charlie Wilson’s War” (excellent) – click here for my review
- “Code Name: The Cleaner” (horrid) – Click here for my review
- “Mr. Woodcock” (also hilarious) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Of the film’s 24 days of filming on “You Kill Me,” only one was spent in San Francisco. The rest were in Winnipeg in Canada.
- The most un-Hollywood name for an actor here is Sandy Jobin-Bevans. He plays “Supervisor Davis,” who is the bureaucrat that Kingsley threatens in his underwear over a real estate dispute with Pullman. Jobin-Bevans was also in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and “Dawn of the Dead.”
- Marcus Thomas plays “Stef Krzeminski” and is the boss’ son and Kingsley’s friend. Thomas does a really nice job, balancing work between helping his wife pick out clothes to the criminal side of his job. Thomas was also in “Drowning Mona.”
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2016.
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