You Kill Me

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You Kill Me
Review (7.5/10)
(By Greg Douglass)

This modestly successful hitman yarn stars Ben Kingsley as a bottled up (in more ways than one) alcoholic who must quit drinking so he can kill with "clarity." For real, here is a man who genuinely wants to get better so that he can get others dead. I was sold on the concept and excited about the fact that this is Sir Ben's first real crime picture sine the beyond-brilliant “Sexy Beast” (let’s pretend “Lucky Number Sleven” wasn't made) but what surprises me most here is director John Dahl’s ability to sustain the subversive edge of the concept he’s working with. In this story, Kingsley doesn't turn into Mr. Nice Guy so much as Mr. Sober Killer.

Even more impressive is how the tone is non-sentimental —via the central character arc— yet surprisingly tender and emotional in how it treats this man's anxieties. Yes, Kingsley plays a dysfunctional hitman and there is a lot of goofy-fun Elmore Leonard-esq action surrounding a crooked real estate agent played by Bill Pullman and a plotline involving the declining Polish mob (led by Phillip Baker Hall) squiring off against the Irish (Dennis Farina), and while these aspects are serviceable thanks to a smart script by the “Narnia” writing team Christopher Markus Stephen and McFeely as well as all the sharp performances, the film is really about how addiction gets its hold on people and has a way of killing everyone they love. With the drink functioning as a handy metaphor as the great dream killer, Kingsley’s deadpan performance is so much more than a one note comic piece. His scenes in AA with a sponsor played by Luke Wilson could have been broad and slapsticky (especially when Kingsley takes the name Alcoholics Anonymous literally by admitting to the group to being killer) but retain a serious and rather sad undercurrent thanks to Kingsley’s thousand-yard stare that relays feelings of emptiness, menace and yearning.

Also strangely compelling is the female love interest played by actress/producer Tea Leone. In what could have been a traditional heterosexual subplot involving the girlfriend not knowing what her lover does for a living, then finding out, then reuniting after he saves her, etc., Leone’s character is refreshingly atypical in how she approaches her deadly mate. She’s actually okay with what Kingsley does and, if anything, wants to seem him get back to his life’s passion. I loved the lovers montage which juxtaposed romantic walks in the park with knife throwing. Remember that moment in the hitman comedy “Grosse Pointe Blank” when the girlfriend’s father asks John Cusack what he does for a living and he says “I’m a professional killer,” to which the father says “Do you have to do postgraduate work for that?” Well, this film’s surreally casual approach to these monstrous acts is similar, and similarly clever.

Along with the recent “Kiss, Kiss Bang, Bang” and “The Matador,” “You Kill Me” offers up a wonderfully quirky alternative to the tired mainstream crime movie formula. Above all, this film proves two things: That Ben Kingsley is a master thespian no matter how many bad films he’s in and that John Dahl, whose credits include “Red Rock West,” “The Last Seduction” and “Rounders,” is an underrated director. Look, this film is far from perfect, but I give it a lot of credit for avoiding conventions. If there's one thing you can say about this film it's that it sticks to its guns.


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