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MiraJeff’s Seen YOU KILL ME!!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Here’s one of this week’s titles that I haven’t seen, but thankfully we’ve got MiraJeff weighing in with his look at John Dahl’s latest:

Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here with a look at You Kill Me, the tough-to-categorize film from director John Dahl about an alcoholic hitman's long road to recovery. When we first meet Sir Ben Kingsley as Frank Falenczyk, he's guzzling his vodka breakfast straight from the Smirnoff bottle. Frank is a proud member of a Polish family of gangsters who operate a snowplow business in Buffalo, New York. Frank's uncle Roman (Philip Baker Hall) is the head of this family, and he wants the head of of a rival Irish family named O'Leary (Dennis Farina) to be whacked before he joins forces with a wealthy Chinese syndicate and the two of them squeeze the Pols out of the picture. Roman's son, Stef (Marcus Thomas), emphasizes how important this particular job is to the survival of their family, but its significance is lost on Frank, who is already settling into the drunken fog he feels most comfortable living in. Naturally Frank gets blackout drunk when the perfect opportunity to kill O'Leary presents itself, and Roman orders Frank to sober up or else he can't continue to work for him, or anyone else for that matter. So it's bon voyage for Frank, who's off to join Alcoholics Anonymous in sunny San Francisco for some reason, apparently because AA groups from upstate New York aren't as funny as ones from the Bay Area. In San Fran, Frank meets a shady real estate agent (Bill Pullman) who is keeping an eye on Frank for the family. If Frank doesn't take the program seriously, one phone call from him is all it'll take to put Frank in the same funeral parlor where he winds up getting a job as a mortician. It's there that he meets Laurel (Tea Leoni), the woman who becomes the only ray of sunshine in his life even though she seems down and depressed herself, being a hot but unmarried 40 year-old woman who can apparently do no better than Ben Kingsley (not exactly Brad Pitt) and all. The other significant other in Frank's life is his newfound sponsor Tom, a tollbooth worker played by none other than Luke Wilson. The rest of the film follows Frank as he struggles to stay on the wagon while romancing a woman significantly younger than he. Not exactly a story that's ripe with laughs, but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely fair pretty well for themselves within the dreaded and often misunderstood genre of dark comedy. So with the summary out of the way, allow me to impart my analysis. The existential crisis's of criminals has become a recurring motif in recent (and semi-recent) films and TV shows, from Grosse Pointe Blank and Analyze This to The Matador and most famously, The Sopranos. All feature killers who feel the need to unburden themselves, whether its to a psychiatrist, an impressionable friend who eventually aids them in escaping the business, or in this case, an AA meeting. That said, the best moments in You Kill Me are all part of the AA scenes. But can you imagine Sylvester Stallone or Antonio Banderas' characters from Assassins confessing their most violent kills to a shrink, or Timothy Olyphant joining group therapy in the upcoming movie Hitman? Of course you can't, and that's because you don't want to. We don't like to think about what professional killers do in their spare time, because we'd like to believe they live in a constant state of bad-assery. Seeing De Niro and Brosnan cry is funny, sure, but we don't like to think there's a weak link in their armor. Kingsley never cries in You Kill Me but he might as well, seeing how aggressively he drinks to suppress his sorrows. He's a weak person, a 'victim' as one character refers to him as, always following orders and keeping his happiness at low priority. And the interesting thing about Frank is that he knows he can't continue to live like this. He knows he has to change, but it's not as easy as giving the booze up cold turkey. It's an ongoing process, and You Kill Me does a nice job of illustrating that. As soon as Frank enters AA he thinks he doesn't fit it. He thinks it's a bunch of people feeling sorry for themselves, blaming their problem on family and friends, when those are the very people who alcoholics consistently let down because of their disease. When Frank finally does accept responsibility and acknowledge that he has a problem, he's able to open up and have what in all likelihood is his first real relationship, built around a mutual understanding and more importantly, a sense of trust. Although I never really bought Frank and Laurel's May-December relationship, I suppose I can see what Laurel sees in him; A lonely soul who's never been anything but frighteningly honest with her. Kingsley and Leoni share little chemistry onscreen, and I wasn't wholly convinced of Laurel's sudden plunge to the darkside (by the time the finale rolls around, she's brandishing weapons, disarming low-level hoods and stuffing them into the trunk of a car), but by the time the end credits came around, I started to think they actually made a fairly nice couple together. Sir Ben is clearly the main attraction here, and one of he film's weaknesses is that its supporting characters are rather thin, and what narrative threads they do have are cut loose. For instance, we never really learn what becomes of Tom or Stef. They're kind of decorative characters, in that neither ever seems to have any real stake in the story. Now I've really liked Luke Wilson lately, in both Vacancy and The Wendall Baker Story, but he's given ridiculously little to work with her. He's just kind of there, playing the straight man as restrained as I've ever seen him, strolling through his scenes wearing his patented gee-whiz, who-me? smirk. He's never asked to raise his voice or even crack a joke, and while I was expecting his character to lighten the mood and put the laughs in what is ostensibly a comedy, he doesn't, although the script certainly doesn't help him in that department. As for Thomas, I thought he fit right in with the seasoned cast and he impressed me enough to look him up as soon as I got home, but I his character was a little too soft for me. Meanwhile Pullman's quirky character doesn't really go anywhere or serving any meaningful purpose besides bringing Frank in on a convoluted real estate scam (as the muscle, of course, but in his underwear, so it's funny, get it?) only to turn on Frank when he needs him most, calling the trigger-happy drunk a 'loser,' a profound dis of sorts that sends a desperate Frank to his God (embodied by the Golden Gate Bridge) in search of answers to his life's problems. Why Frank takes the insult so personally is unclear, although I can understand how Frank might have seen a glimmer of truth in the comment. Baker Hall and Farina bring a veteran charisma and intense sense of urgency to the proceedings but this is Sir Ben's movie through and through, and Kingsley gives his best performance since Sexy Beast, although that isn't saying much considering the past few years he's been wasting his considerable talents on dreck like Suspect Zero, Thunderbirds, A Sound of Thunder and who could forget Bloodrayne, no matter how hard they try. Kingsley's awkward portrayal of Frank as a broken man with few social skills and little tact is at once sad and endearing. Any other actor would've sent this movie straight to DVD. As I sat watching You Kill Me, I had the distinct feeling that it would be the perfect Tribeca film, and sure enough, I went home to look it up and that's exactly where the film premiered. It just has a sort of New York sensibility to it. I'm not even sure what that means, other than it's a small movie with a larger-than-life performance. You Kill Me is a perfectly good film but it suffers from some pacing problems and isn't all that funny considering it's being billed as a comedy. A more appropriate description would be charming. It never wears out its welcome and the story is involving enough, but at the same time, it never threatened to break any new ground in a genre that's in danger of becoming a little stale. Dahl provides a nice alternative to summer's blockbuster fare, but expect this one to fade away into the background and resurface as a hit on cable, especially with other 'bigger' smaller movies opening this weekend, like A Mighty Heart and in New York, Michael Moore's Sicko. That'll do it for me, folks. I'll be back with a disappointing look at David Wain's The Ten. I'm off to Seattle for a wedding this weekend but with a little luck I'll find a few free hours to catch the Australian Macbeth starring Sam Worthington that looks like a bloody good time and won't open in LA until the end of July. If anyone's seen it, feel free to email me at Til next time, this is MiraJeff signing off...
Readers Talkback
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  • June 21, 2007, 7:11 a.m. CST


    by ATARI

  • June 21, 2007, 7:11 a.m. CST

    Take that rain ;-)

    by ATARI

  • June 21, 2007, 7:19 a.m. CST


    by raine204

    dammit...thats what I get for actually reading a few of these hehe.

  • June 21, 2007, 9:01 a.m. CST

    Personal lives of hitmen

    by Spandau Belly

    Are no longer entertaining. Back when Leon came out it was bold and compelling to see a drama like that about a hitman. But I think it's now just boring to see hitmen knitting and having petty arguements and everyday stuff.<br><br>Besides, how many hitmen are there out there? I'm sure they've made more movies about guys like Leon and Vincent Vega and Jules than there are actual guys like them.

  • June 21, 2007, 1:45 p.m. CST

    I'm seeing this friday

    by andrew coleman

    Looks better then most of the junk coming out. Then hopefully catch a Mighty Heart and sneak preview of Sicko. Avoiding Evan Almighty for as long as I can.

  • June 21, 2007, 2:13 p.m. CST


    by The Real MiraJeff

    just got a mac, working on textpad because i don't have word yet so why don't you relax, i could write a better screenplay than you with no hands

  • June 21, 2007, 5:04 p.m. CST

    The Ten is disappointing!!

    by BadMrWonka

    crapola, I was really looking forward to that one...I can still hope!<p>and don't mind Puppy Shit, this is a guy that thinks Matt Cale is a great reviewer...paragraphs are the least of that brain donor's problems...

  • June 21, 2007, 5:53 p.m. CST


    by The Real MiraJeff

    the ten just doesn't work it's really too bad, cuz I was psyched to see it too, variety actually gave it a pretty good review but i thought it was pretty uneven, got a busy couple weeks ahead moving apartments, taking a vacation back home to boston, but i should have it up around the first week in july

  • June 21, 2007, 8:06 p.m. CST

    sounds good

    by BadMrWonka

    and I e-mailed you some tidbits from the show I'm on...nothing obvsiouly article're not PerezHilton after all...but interestesting...<p>say hi to Seattle for me. it's my hometown. if you have a chance, go to Musashi's restaurant on 45th restaurant in the world. they're closed Sunday and Monday, just FYI.

  • June 21, 2007, 8:14 p.m. CST

    No, he didn't say the Ten was disappointing--

    by Freakemovie

    He said HIS LOOK at the Ten was disappointing. But I swear I'm not nitpicking.

  • June 21, 2007, 10:53 p.m. CST

    Puppy Shit

    by BadMrWonka

    did you apply to film school and get rejected? why do you seem to think that is a great insult? I went to film school, I graduated, I moved to LA, and I'm working in the film industry. no different then going to medical school, finding a residency, and becoming a doctor. or in your case, going to high school, going to college, dropping out, flipping burgers. or maybe folding I close?

  • June 22, 2007, 1:57 a.m. CST

    well, yeah actually

    by BadMrWonka

    in the process of selling a full length script, and the short is playing at DGA's vision fest in august. I get to go to the honoree's dinner and have dinner with david lynch.<p>how b out you? still working on the GED?

  • June 22, 2007, 3:56 a.m. CST

    fellas, fellas

    by The Real MiraJeff

    let's all take a deep breath now, shall we? reality check, we're all posting in an AICN talkback, I think it's safe to say none of us are exactly Steven Spielberg. But for the record I wasn't a film major, I was a dramatic writing major. Sounds stupid but there's a big difference. I don't want to direct. That shit's actually hard.

  • June 22, 2007, 4:45 a.m. CST


    by BadMrWonka

    don't bother talking logic to Puppy's like spitting on a forest fire...<p>and the hard things are the best in life! there's a chinese proverb that says, "the best medicine always tastes bitter."<p>I just couldn't let anyone talk shit about "Henri"'s my $200 budgeted ticket to stardom!