You Kill Me
If you think it's hard to imagine Ben Kingsley, the man who played Gandhi, as an alcoholic hit-man from Buffalo, you'll have a real problem matching him up with Téa Leoni as his love interest. On the other hand, with that one little exception, that is, that he's more than old enough to be her father, "You Kill Me" is a delightful black comedy that comes along at a time when movies take themselves much too seriously.
John Dahl, who directed "Rounders" and "Red Rock West" and "The Last Seduction," all of them blacker than black and deliciously funny, has directed "You Kill Me" with his same sense of irony; he never lets the film get too serious for its own good. Kingsley is Frank, a member of one of the last Polish gangs in Buffalo that's now in the process of losing out to the Irish and the Chinese; his boss (Philip Baker Hall) has given Kingsley a job to kill a man, but the alcoholic Frank has fallen asleep and doesn't make the hit. He's sent to San Francisco to dry out, where Bill Pullman finds him an apartment and a job at a funeral parlor, where he finds he has a great talent for making his clients look lifelike for the viewing.
Frank goes to his first AA meeting, and while things unravel back in Buffalo he finds a lover (Leoni) in San Francisco, who has an unhealthy interest in learning how to kill with knives; and he also finds an AA sponsor (Luke Wilson), who has a job as a toll-taker on the Golden Gate bridge. As I say, you have to not only suspend your disbelief, you have to throw it out the window. But when you do, you will have a wonderful time.
The great thing about Dahl as a director is that he never falls in love with his scenes or his actors; what you see is what you get. There's a wonderful moment at the beginning, where Frank is shoveling out the snow from his Buffalo stoop; he has a bottle of vodka in his hand, he takes a long swig, throws it into the snow ahead of his shovel so it stays cold, digs until he reaches the bottle again, takes another drink, throws it ahead again, and keeps shoveling till he gets to the sidewalk. It's the perfect introduction to him. And in San Francisco, instead of lingering over the humor of Frank being astounded to find out what happens at his first AA meeting, he gives us just enough to let us fill in the blanks and moves along to the next scene.
But then there's an if only - as in if only someone else was cast here instead of Ben Kingsley; we can assume that he got the role because the producers insisted that he be part of the film package; he's at least fifteen years too old for the part. And yet he does his best; he plays against his old, statuesque image and more in the vein of his gangster in "Sexy Beast," where he exudes the menace of the killer. And Leoni, who should be on everybody's A-list but has had to make do with some dreadful films and television shows, has a great chance to show us her beauty and her acting chops; maybe this will be her breakout film.