You Kill Me
October 22, 2007
In the 1990s, director John Dahl was the go-to guy for clever, neo noirs with Red Rock West (1992) and The Last Seduction (1994). After thoroughly mining the genre the only direction left for him was comedy and this results in his latest crime film, You Kill Me (2007) which, like The Matador (2005), takes a burnt out assassin and plays his weaknesses for laughs.
Frank (Kingsley) is an alcoholic Buffalo-based hitman who has lost his touch as of late. He’s more concerned with polishing off a bottle than his intended targets. After he screws up an important job (he slept through it), he is forced, by his boss (Hall), to go to Alcoholics Anonymous in San Francisco. Frank shows up to his first meeting, decides that everyone there are idiots and leaves only to be met outside by his handler, Dave (Pullman), a real estate agent who is also keeping tabs on him for their boss. He gets Frank an apartment, into the AA group and a job at a funeral home (a logical alternate vocation).
At his next meeting, Frank meets Tom (Wilson) and he becomes the killer’s sponsor. One day, at work, Frank also meets a relative (Leoni) of one of his deceased clients and he’s impressed by her dispassionate attitude towards death – something that he can relate to and admire. The heat is on for Frank to get cleaned up as the mob he works for is in the midst of a deadly turf war that they are in real danger of losing.
Much of the film’s humour is derived from putting a no-nonsense killer into AA and mining the comedy from the clash of cultures. It’s as if Kingsley’s gangster from Sexy Beast (2000) mellowed out a little and developed a drinking problem. The actor wisely plays it straight and lets the more colourful characters, like Pullman’s chatty real estate agent cum handler, bounce off of him. It is also fun to watch Frank gradually develop a soul as he tries to kick his drinking problem. He approaches it with the same kind of single-mindedness as he would a hit. In some respects, it bears more than a passing resemblance to The Matador which featured Pierce Brosnan as a hitman who had also lost his touch; however, in his case it was due to a crippling bout of self doubt.
Luke Wilson plays his usual amiable self and Bill Pullman is a lot of fun to watch as a slightly eccentric handler. Tea Leoni is a pleasant surprise as she plays down here annoying acting tics and actually holds her own with someone of Kingsley’s calibre. Fans of Midnight Run (1988) will be happy to see Philip Baker Hall and Dennis Farina reunited, playing rival mobsters.
You Kill Me is an interesting change of pace for John Dahl who demonstrates a deft, comedic touch. There are no huge, gut-busting laughs here, just lots of subtle, underplayed gags and clever dialogue that is well-delivered. Where a film like Analyze This (1999) plays the crime genre for obvious, slapsticky gags, You Kill Me is much more restrained and character-driven… and funnier.
There is an audio commentary by director John Dahl and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The two writers talk briefly about how their script got discovered. Kingsley was given it, loved it and from there Dahl and Leoni signed on. Dahl points out that they shot the film in Winnipeg because they found that it could double for Buffalo (and even San Francisco) cheaply. The writers originally wrote a thriller and found that as they were writing it they found that they were making fun of the genre. Dahl cites Harold and Maude (1971) and Blood Simple (1984) as darkly comic films that influenced him. This is a decent, informative track.
“Behind-the-Scenes of You Kill Me.” This promotional featurette briefly covers the origins of the film. Kingsley speaks highly of the script and talks about what drew him to the role. This extra mixes interview soundbites with clips from the film.
“Before and After Visual Effects Comparison” shows a scene before effects were added and what it looks like after. For example, most of the snow was created with CGI. They also created a toll booth station located in San Francisco on a soundstage in Canada.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.