Theatrical Review: Ben Kingsley
can do just about anything, and that’s basically why he is able to walk the tightrope he does. As popular and talented as Kingsley is, he also has an unmistakable air of anonymity. He's one of the few actors in the game who can play any character and somehow trick us into believing he's not Ben Kingsley playing a character; we just accept him as the character. It's this very talent that gives lesser material (House of Sand and Fog, Suspect Zero) a needed kick of rhythm and believability. Though he's not the only good thing in John Dahl
's pulpy You Kill Me, his presence makes the fun all the more refreshing.
As Polish-mob hit-man Frank Falenczyk (pronounced Fail-an-chik), Kingsley has the most fun he's had onscreen since he muttered a red-streak as the frenzied madman Don Logan in Jonathan Glazer's superb Sexy Beast. This time, his gangster-take has a more reserved and subdued nature, playing more for deadpan hilarity than ballistic scares. That deadpan ability serves Frank best when he's banished from his New York home to San Francisco for botching a job after too many drinks. His boss (Philip Baker Hall
) has had enough of his alcoholism, and his best friend (Marcus Thomas) can't help him any more. So, it's off to the Bay for him. Article continues below
The relocation doesn't initially take: Falenczyk's contact in San-Fran is a seedy real-estate agent (a wily Bill Pullman
) who keeps taunting the old bear with threats concerning the man who wants Frank's head (Dennis Farina
). This gets coupled with a crap-job as a funeral-home assistant and a string of AA meetings where the only person he connects with is a gay tollbooth operator named Tom (a wasted Luke Wilson
). Then he gets a break: At a funeral he meets Laurel (Téa Leoni
) and rather quickly falls for her. Laurel possesses a macabre sense of humor and a deep misgiving about humanity; when Frank tells her what he does/did, her disposition seems to be more placidly aroused than anything else. All of a sudden, Frank has something to live for and protect. Unfortunately, some friends from New York want to relieve Frank of his nasty breathing habit for good.
Leoni's patented sass has great effect here, playing off Kingsley with deft timing and a superbly steely resolve. Their banter gets elevated from simple Tarantino
-isms by Chronicles of Narnia scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who keep the action and the characters firing on all pistons. Though inconsequential at heart, the film benefits from its cast and its director, the multifaceted John Dahl. You Kill Me doesn't have the crafted and calculated feel of Dahl's best work (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction) but it shares the same lowbrow, all-in thrills and chuckles as his insanely underrated Joy Ride. It also shows some character for distributor IFC First Take, which has been peddling mainly in art-house drama and art cinema with the exception of this and Black Sheep
(also released this weekend). Placed alongside monumental pieces of art like Syndromes and a Century and I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, You Kill Me has a tarnished sense of propriety which gives it an odd classic-comedy feel.