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Movie Review: You Kill Me

By Tom Houseman

July 3, 2007

This character is nothing like my Sexy Beast character. Really.

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Is anyone getting sick of the "killer with emotional problems who has a mental breakdown" comedy yet? No? Good. Somehow, films like Analyze This, The Whole Nine Yards, Grosse Point Blank, and The Matador have all managed to leave their own distinct mark on this quickly developing genre, and, with the exception of the abysmal sequels The Whole Ten Yards and Analyze That, have managed to remain fresh and funny, and, most importantly, not seemed repetitive. The newest entry into this group is You Kill Me, directed by John Dahl and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the duo behind The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Despite a plot that could be seen as having already been done (Markus and McFeely wrote the script in 1994), the movie has a wonderful spark to it that makes it feel new and different. Of course, there is not much that the film has to offer beyond this spark; You Kill Me is a charming but shallow film that can easily be enjoyed for its clever writing and excellent acting, but not much beyond that.

Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley) has a drinking problem. It has become such a problem that it is interfering with his job, which happens to be as an assassin for the Polish mafia in Buffalo. After falling asleep while waiting to take out an important target, Frank's boss Roman (Phillip Baker Hall) sends him to San Fransisco to get him into AA and keep him out of trouble. Frank gets a sponsor, Tom (Luke Wilson), and a girlfriend, Laurel (Tea Leoni), and tries to get his life together. But it turns out that staying sober is far more difficult than whacking guys.




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While the story is quite simple, You Kill Me moves quickly enough that it rarely feels dull or monotonous. The overly stubborn characters consistently butt heads with sharp, clever dialogue that keeps the pace up, the story moving, and the audience captivated. Of course, it is the actors who bring the dialogue to life, and everyone in You Kill Me does a great job of giving their characters human qualities to always make them seem like real people. Ben Kingsley is best known for dramatic performances in Gandhi and Schindler's List, and it is refreshing to see him do comedy, especially because he does it so well. Kingsley's tough, gruff portrayal of Frank that still shows the weakness that makes this assassin so human is what lifts the film up to a new level. The best part of his performance is that he does more with the character than just what is on the page; his facial expressions during AA meetings are hilarious, and prove to be some of the film's highlights.

Of course, one character cannot make an entire film, and his various foils provide him with great opportunities for comedy, while offering up some laughs themselves. Tea Leoni has wonderful comedic timing, and as Laurel, her retorts to Frank's embarrassing attempts at courtship are both cutting and hilarious. Luke Wilson plays Frank's sponsor, and is one of the most down-to-earth characters in the film, which is refreshing, especially since he has some great lines to add. Bill Pullman also has a small but memorable part, along with a few other characters who round out the film and keep it from becoming stale.

Sadly, none of the supporting characters are particularly well developed, serving only as aides or roadblocks on Frank's road to recovery and redemption, and it is for this reason, as well as a few poor directorial choices, that You Kill Me occasionally stumbles and loses its hold. The idea of anyone in recovery, especially someone with as complicated a past as Frank, can provide a rich and complex story filled with emotional depth. Unfortunately, while the comedy is fully taken advantage of, the depth is ultimately found lacking. You Kill Me is a clever film with a few tricks up its sleeve and some good intentions in its heart, but those good intentions do not come across in the film. If You Kill Me had been able to resonate emotionally with the audience, instead of just going for the laughs, it could have been a great film. Instead, it comes up just short.


     


 
 

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