You Kill Me

John Dahl

The man who made a postmodern noir splash with his clever, twisted mystery comedies Red Rock West and The Last Seduction and later crafted a brilliant character study of gambling addiction with Rounders has unfortunately since been relegated to making taut if less than stellar works such as Joy Ride. In simple terms, Dahl needed a hit badly, or if not a hit, something so original that once again viewers would recall how dazzled they were by the dark Hitchcockian twists and turns of the hip, ironic and surprisingly giggle inducing Red Rock West and the shockingly sexy Seduction. His latest film, You Kill Me, was released quietly in theatres after being produced by the good people at IFC Films and it seemed to be one of those summer works that will only break out of the pack through word of mouth and hence here I am urging you not to let it just stay asleep to mass audiences. Despite a low budget and brief running time, it’s nonetheless one of the most imaginative entries into the crime comedy genre, most likely because, unlike the influx of the fake buddy comedies or painfully “cool” studio works, You Kill Me feels-- I daresay-- distinctly real. The film stars one of our most versatile chameleons Ben Kingsely, this time portraying a Polish hit man who works for the family mob in gloomy Buffalo, New York where he finds himself torn between his two hobbies—his utter devotion to the business but his even more enticing mistress of alcohol. When the perpetually drunk Frank Falenczyk (Kingsley) passes out during a crucial hit that would’ve taken out the family rival and head of the Irish mob (Dennis Farina), his uncle Roman (Philip Baker Hall) forces Kingsley out of the cold and over to San Francisco to join AA. Once in San Francisco, the film picks up the pace, as we, along with Frank meet some terrific supporting personalities in his quirky love interest Laurel (Tea Leoni) who is oddly fine with his alcoholism and career as long as he swears he’s not gay (it is after all San Francisco). We also encounter Luke Wilson as his gay, well-meaning, toll-booth operator AA sponsor Tom, who Wilson plays in an understated manner without changing anything in his usual Wilson persona, making his gay character never once wander into the land of stereotype. Cue Bill Pullman (from Last Seduction and a former professor of Dahl’s at the University of Montana) as a shady real estate salesman and you have the stuff of great dark comedy as Frank realizes that there’s more to life than just a bottle and a gun and that life without the bottle makes the gun even more enjoyable, especially when he can count on a new friend and a new love. Shot in just twenty-six days, according to IMDb, the film boasts a wonderful script from writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley (who co-wrote the HBO movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) that avoids feeling like a gimmicky crime comedy. It's impressive that it always stays believable as Frank, for example, finds himself working in a funeral parlor and we realize that it’s the only job he’s actually qualified for as he struggles with some of the issues concerning AA including those who wallow as well as just how to make amends to those he’s wronged in the past until he ultimately decides that gift cards to the Sony Store seem to work well. Funny, delightfully odd and one summer film you’ll actually remember—it made me instantly want to watch classic Dahl again like Red Rock West but more than that, it made me again appreciate the delightful screwball-inspired nuances that Tea Leoni always brings to her characters and wish that she was given far more cinematic opportunities. It’s a hopeful sign that she was a producer on the film and I'm glad that someone with her humor and intelligence who can help bring these films to light is using her position to tell memorable stories that in someone else's hands may have seemed like jokes—for the one about the hit man who needed to give up the drink so his performance could improve is indeed an original one worth telling.