Thursday, December 06, 2007

 

A little late to the party

By Edward Copeland
With its tale of an alcoholic hit man trying to overcome the personal demons interfering with his job, You Kill Me seems to be a late entry in what in a little less than a decade has become a crowded genre within a genre. It's a shame, because there are good things in John Dahl's film, especially Ben Kingsley's lead performance, but the movie tastes like leftovers.


Kingsley plays Frank, the main triggerman for a group of Polish mobsters in Buffalo, N.Y., who find themselves being squeezed out by other criminal gangs, most notably the Irish ones.

Frank's boss Roman (Philip Baker Hall) wants him to take out the Irish gang's leader O'Leary (Dennis Farina) before he gets on the train to an important out-of-town meeting. Unfortunately, the toasted Frank passes out in his car at the train station and misses the chance to kill O'Leary.

As a result, Roman stages an intervention of sorts, dispatching Frank to San Francisco to dry out. While in the city on the bay, he meets up with a sympathetic toll booth attendant (Luke Wilson) at an AA meeting and a cynical would-be mourner (Tea Leoni), whose stepfather is being laid to rest by the funeral home in which Frank has found temporary employment.

Thanks to the performers, much of this material plays well, even if we've seen it played better elsewhere (most notably The Sopranos).

One of the film's problems is it keeps shifting back to the action in Buffalo, which is integral to the story but ends up sapping the San Francisco side of the story of any momentum.

It's not that the genre of the depressed/alcoholic mob guy or hit man can't be done well in the post-Sopranos age (think the underrated The Matador with Pierce Brosnan or the almost-forgotten gem Panic with William H. Macy), it's just that the bar has been set so much higher that anyone who wades into this territory really needs to bring something fresh to it.

You Kill Me is also a reminder of how Dahl, who showed so much promise back in the early 1990s with Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, still hasn't found a project worthy of his gifts since.


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