You Kill Me is a gentle romantic comedy about an alcoholic hit-man. Despite significant risk of silliness, it fairly evenly manages to deal with changes in tone, settings, even genre, at least in part because these variations are much easier to countenance than Ben Kingsley as a romantic lead.

That's not to say his performance is any less good than his usual standard. It's no Gandhi, to be sure, but Kingsley invests Frank Falenczyk with a credibility that ultimately sustains the film, although, in fairness, he is supported by a host of other talented actors.

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Frank is enforcer to the Polish mob of Buffalo, New York, so pressured by other gangs that they're reduced to running the city's snow-plows and little else. After failing to assassinate the head of the Irish mob (Dennis Farina, in yet another well-played minor role as either cop or criminal), Frank is sent to San Francisco to sober up. As his "uncle Roman" explains, he has a choice between drying out or dying. Philip Baker Hall (last seen in Zodiac) is at once world weary and wise as his empire is eroded by the Irish.

The performances are generally excellent. Luke Wilson is understanding and patient as Tom, Frank's AA sponsor. Bill Pullman is brilliant as a Real Estate magnate asked to babysit Frank as he battles his alcoholism. Then there's Téa Leoni as Laurel, Frank's romantic interest. Unlike most Hollywood depictions of relationships between older men and younger women, this one is convincing. We're shown enough of Laurel's own damage to understand how Frank works for her; indeed, we're shown enough of everyone's flaws to understand how they relate to them and how they deal with them.

Wilson brings the familial tendency to the hangdog to Tom, a booth worker on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. As Frank's sponsor he manages to introduce the audience to the business of the AA neatly, even if Frank's lapses aren't anywhere near as tidy. The bridge is a solid presence in the film, "a power higher than myself" for Tom, at least. What's more remarkable perhaps is that the film was shot almost entirely in Winnipeg, since the San Francisco setting is fairly and well represented, even with limited time at that location.

Director John Dahl has a fondness for hitmen. Red Rock West stands out, but he's more famous in the US for his television work, in particular, The Line-Up. Writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus appear to have produced the script as a relief from the stresses of their work on The Chronicles of Narnia, but between You Kill Me and their work on The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers it would appear they're as able with real life and its vicissitudes as they are with fawning fauns and leonine Jesus-analogues.

You Kill Me is light-hearted, never really laugh out loud funny but always amusing. It's hard to countenance comedy this mild in conjunction with gangland shoot-outs and mob wars, when usually the strokes are bolder and cruder. It stands in contrast to Mr & Mrs Smith in both cast and tone, and, hopefully, relative success. This is a small film, but stands as an excellent 'date movie' - there's something for everyone here, and it's worth recommending to all.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2007
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You Kill Me packshot
An alcoholic hitman means a dangerous woman.
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Director: John Dahl

Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni, Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall, Bill Pullman

Year: 2007

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Tribeca 2007

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