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You Kill Me (2007)

December 12th, 2007 · 3 Comments

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Synopsis
Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley) begins his day downing vodka and shoveling snow off his porch in Buffalo. His cousin (Marcus Thomas) runs a plow company being underbid by an Irish syndicate. Frank’s assignment is to make sure Edward O’Leary (Dennis Farina) doesn’t make a meeting in New York. Instead of going through with the hit, Frank gets drunk and passes out. This prompts his uncle (Philip Baker Hall) to send him to San Francisco to dry out.

A real estate agent and family friend named Dave (Bill Pullman) gets Frank a place to stay and a job. While at an AA meeting, Frank befriends a toll booth operator (Luke Wilson). Through his job at a funeral parlor, Frank meets Laurel (Tea Leoni) and asks her on a date. Laurel has been lied to by so many men, she finds Frank’s honesty – that he’s in AA and that he kills people for a living – to be refreshing.

When Dave encounters a problem with a stubborn city supervisor, Frank takes care of it as a favor, keeping in practice with his tradecraft. He slips on and off the wagon, nearly shooting Laurel during one of his benders. Trouble in Buffalo with the Irish syndicate draws him back home, but Laurel refuses to let Frank leave her. She follows him to Buffalo, walking into the middle of a gang war.

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Production history
Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely chose to write a serial killer thriller for their first script. By page 60, the writers realized they wanted to make fun of their story. They decided that for their next script, they’d leave in the funny stuff. In 1996, Markus had a friend sign up for Alcoholics Anonymous, and went along with him for support. He learned that at the meetings, people were encouraged to say anything they wanted. That got Markus thinking about the most extreme thing you could confess at AA.

The writers hadn’t seen a movie about a hitman in a while, and settled on writing about that character getting on the wagon. Their script circulated for years; people thought it was clever, but too quirky to spend money on. Producer Mike Marcus obtained the writers’ permission to show the script around. He got it to producer Carol Baum, who knew Ben Kingsley. The actor loved the script, and approached John Dahl to direct.

Dahl had wanted to make a hitman movie for years, and liked black comedy. His concern was the budget. Markus was from Buffalo, McFeely from San Francisco, and those were the cities the writers had selected as locations for their script. Initially budgeted at $11 million, Dahl settled on Winnipeg, Canada to stand in for both locales, with one day on location in San Francisco. A 26-day shooting schedule slashed the budget further to $4 million.

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The writers had drawn up a short list of actresses they thought were right for the female lead. With Kingsley serving as a producer, he asked Tea Leoni to read the script. Leoni not only liked it, but wanted to preserve its weirdness by serving as a producer as well. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, before being distributed by The Weinstein Company in the U.S. in June. It received good reviews, but was largely ignored at the box office.

Opinion
John Dahl – whose work I like, despite having shown no real inclination for comedy – was attracted to the script because it was “a little rough around the edges” and wasn’t “so thought out and deliberate.” That’s a pretty dead on description of the finished film. From its title, to its gimmick, down to the interactions of its characters, You Kill Me is like a sitcom pilot whose reasons for rejection are almost too numerous to name.

Shooting almost exclusively in Canada creates an atmosphere nearly as artificial as the conceit the film is based on. It’s not believable. It’s not funny. The mob subplot is given scant attention, completely wasting Dennis Farina and Philip Baker Hall. The 63-year-old Kingsley and the 40-year-old Leoni are good actors who have no real chemistry, while Luke Wilson seems to stroll in from some other movie. Only Bill Pullman acquits himself in this misfire.

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Frank Showalter at Frank’s Movie Log writes, “The only weakness in the movie is the script, which never seems to find the right balance between comedy and drama. Instead of being a great black comedy or a great drama it’s merely okay, but with the calibur of talent in front of the camera, that’s a let down.” He gives it a C.

“For black comedy aficionados, the film is funny, but extremely dry and sardonic, rarely ever generating more than a wry twitch of the lips on behalf of audiences. Some stronger laughs might have given the film the bump it needed to make a name for itself,” writes Adam Arseneau at DVD Verdict.

Eric D. Snider writes, “The film is funny, mostly, thanks to Kingsley’s exhausted, booze-soaked performance as Frank, with nice support from Leoni, Pullman, and Wilson. And for as one-note as the characters are, and despite the film having a one-joke story, you can still feel a slight tug at the heartstrings when it comes time for the happy ending.”

“My drinking was interfering with my work. That’s why I’m here. To get sober and go back to killing people full time.” View the theatrical trailer for You Kill Me.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Black comedy · Drunk scene · Gangsters and hoodlums · Hitman · Midlife crisis · Unconventional romance

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marilyn // Dec 13, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    I kinda liked this movie. It’s no “Grosse Point Blank,” but I found some moments in it priceless, particularly when Frank introduces himself as a hitman to his AA group and details what he does exactly. The nonplussed looks of people trained to be supportive was worth the price of admission for me.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Dec 13, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Marilyn: As always, I enjoy reading your comments. If we had our own TV show, I think some excellent fights would break out, a la the old “Sneak Previews” with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

  • 3 Marilyn // Dec 17, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Ha ha. Maybe you’re right, but I suspect we’d agree more than we disagree.

    I remember some doozies between S & E. Once. Siskel accused Ebert of liking a film (“Basic Instinct”?) because he had the hots for Jeanne Tripplehorn! Oh my, what a donnybrook!

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