Posted by: detourmag on June 29, 2007 at 8:19 am

youkillme.jpg
It’s a wake, and they’re standing by the coffin.”It’s probably hard for you to meet someone in your line of work,” Tea Leoni’s jaded ad rep Laurel Pearson says to Frank Falenczyk, Ben Kingsley’s alcoholic hitman/mortuary worker in You Kill Me. “Yeah,” he says, deadpan but entirely serious. “I’m usually standing in the back.”

It’s a great moment in the film, funny but consumed with the loneliness and longing between two individuals who are strangers, but nevertheless feel a connection. And that’s how You Kill Me succeeds, despite its unlikely and sort of ugly premise, which finds Kingsley’s East Coast, perpetually soused mob wet worker heading to San Francisco to clean out, only to realize there that the human contact and empathy he’d always been too busy drinking or killing to care about has awakened inside him at a stage later than most. Dark comedy? Yes. But You Kill Me has such a nice touch with its writing – see the exchange above – that it succeeds more as some kind of romance/life lesson combo.

It helps to have a supporting cast that includes Phillip Baker Hall as Kingsley’s put-upon, small-time mob boss, Dennis Farina as his ambitious nemesis, and a loopy Bill Pullman as the Baker Hall gang’s man in San Fran, a guy so arrogant and eager to lord everything over anyone who he sees as lesser (which is everyone) that he doesn’t recognize his own moral bankruptcy.

Kingsley played the hard core, spittle factory psycho criminal to fearsome perfection in 2000′s Sexy Beast. But this time around, his character is so stubbornly simple that it’s endearing to watch him struggle to manage his alcoholism while holding a straight job and woo Leoni’s equally searching ad exec. (She accepts the knowledge of his real vocation as a consequence of love.)

There’s a few things lost as You Kill Me drives to its conclusion. But it’s never not awesome to watch Kingsley act within himself, to see him fumble like a lovesick teenager on minute and matter-of-factly describe his job of offing rival thugs the next. That he doesn’t become an obedient do-gooder by the end, just a flawed guy who found a way to make his bloody history and explosive vice work in his favor, is the film’s greatest reward. It has the courage to back up Kingsley and Leoni’s odd little love story with a script that doesn’t chicken out of its own cynical darkness. – Johnny Loftus

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