The time has come, I think, to officially create a sub-genre in the dramedy film category for the hitman movie. There have been a number of them through out history: The Professional, Gross Pointe Blank, Coldblooded, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and now, a new one joins the ranks and for me, it’s number one… with a bullet.
What separates You Kill Me from the rest, though, is that it makes no apologies for its main character. Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley) is a hitman working for a Polish mob family in Buffalo, New York. He also happens to be a drunk. This is where the problems come in; not the fact he kills people for a living, no, that’s fine, it’s that, when he’s drunk, he kills them badly. For a consummate professional like Frank, this is just unacceptable… not that he plans on doing anything about it. Frank is content to just live his life, drinking cheap vodka and trying not to screw up until he does screw up and screws up big. He misses a target completely (sleeps right through the proposed assassination) and now the family is sending him across the country, to San Francisco, to get his head together. And that’s just the first ten minutes of the film.
In the City by the Bay, it takes Frank a few tries to get it right. Thankfully, he’s got help. The guy who gets him an apartment, job and tells him about the meetings is Dave, played by an almost unrecognizable Bill Pullman. It’s a minor role, with only a few minutes of screen time, and yet Pullman is better than I’ve seen him in years. Filling out the larger roles though are Téa Leoni as Laurel, Frank’s love interest, and Luke Wilson (in my opinion the more talented of the two brothers) as Tom, his AA sponsor.
What makes this film work, then, is the combination of these great, subtle performances (Téa Leoni is incredibly underrated) with a clever script. See, Frank has no problem with what he does for a living, and bravo to the filmmakers for giving us a character proud of what he does, as opposed to other films in my newly created genre where the hitman has suffered a crisis of conscience and really wants to go straight. Here, Frank wants to get sober only so that he can get back to killing people. I love the fact that in this version of reality, drinking is a worse issue than being an assassin for hire. I love what it says about the world and society we live in that having a few too many at a party is more socially damaging than putting a slug in someone’s head. Now that’s biting social satire!
On the flip side, though, is where the film falls a little flat. Director John Dahl (Rounders, Joy Ride) could cut his film a little tighter. There are points where it tends to drag a bit and in a 90 minute film, this can be, pardon the pun, deadly. Also, the script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, has a hard time balancing the second story-line, the far less interesting tale of what’s happening back in Buffalo due to Frank’s initial mistake. This “B” story is needed since it reconnects with Frank’s story at the climax of the film, but there’s none of the social commentary which makes the main story so compelling. Not that it’s bad, but it treads heavily on the independent movie gangster motifs we’ve seen before and loses the things that make the other half special.
In the end, the people who need to be killed are dead and Frank and Laurel have a solid foundation on which to build their relationship. In the end it’s a love story about death. One in which you find yourself rooting, loudly, for the ‘bad’ guy.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)