Talking Movies

December 15, 2019

From the Archives: You Kill Me

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Ben Kingsley does a better Robert De Niro than Robert De Niro does these days, and, mirabile dictu, it’s enough here to power this film to great heights. I’ve mocked Ben Kingsley as much as anyone, especially the explosion of pomposity since he got his Knighthood and allegedly starting telling production runners foolish enough to call him Ben, ‘That’s Sir Ben to you!’, as well as inserting his title into the credits on Lucky Number Slevin. But his role as shambolic alcoholic hitman Frank Falenczyk must rank beside his terrifying turn as an unhinged gangster in Sexy Beast as his best performance since his seminal roles in Gandhi and Schindler’s List. The film begins with his alcoholic Frank demonstrating the best way to incentivise yourself to clear the snow off your porch; dropping a bottle of vodka a few feet ahead of you and having to dig your way towards it to get another swig.

Frank passes out drunk while waiting to take out grasping Irish mobster Edward O’Leary and is sent to San Francisco to dry out while his Polish crime family led by Philip Baker Hall’s patriarch seek to prevent a Sino-Irish takeover of their turf in Buffalo, upstate New York. Frank is forced by his Frisco contact, bent lawyer Bill Pullman (in an odd, odd cameo), to attend AA meetings. At first resistant, as he settles into a life working at a mortuary and attending meetings he begins to seek to make amends; not for the murders, he’s not sorry about them, he is sorry about murdering them badly because he was drunk. In a priceless scene he sends a $50 voucher for the Sony Centre to the family of a woman whose throat he was meant to slit, but she moved, so she got a knife in the eye first before being dispatched.

Tea Leoni, as his love interest Laurel (who he meets at a funeral), is more relaxed and thus a better actress now that she’s 41 than she ever was when she was a ‘hot young star’ and it is her hilariously deadpan acceptance of Frank’s past that makes the film work. John Dahl, the director of The Last Seduction and Red Rock West, uses a demented tango soundtrack that underlines the playful absurdity of all of this, and if you didn’t get it already Dahl inserts an insanely happy song to score a montage of Frank using melons to show Laurel how to slice up human beings efficiently. Luke Wilson as his AA mentor also delivers an unusually subtle and effective performance as Dahl draws out a mordant approach to the material from all concerned, while also injecting an undercurrent of deep humanity into the decline and fall of the Polish mob in Buffalo. This is a black comedy to savour.

4/5

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