I only know Tea Leoni for a couple of things, the big thing being that she married David Duchovny (The X-Files) and grew a couple of demon seeds with him. But I guess she was bored and inexplicably took on the role of producer and actress in a film starring an Oscar winner, Sir Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), in a low budget independent film named You Kill Me, which was a script that had been kicked around Hollywood for a few years.
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia) and directed by John Dahl (Rounders), Kingsley plays Frank, a hitman for a Polish crime family in Buffalo. He is quite the drinker, and drinking has been affecting his work lately. He sleeps through a job where he is supposed to off a rival crime boss (played by Dennis Farina, Midnight Run), so he is banished to San Francisco to dry out. A shady real estate agent named Dave (Bill Pullman, Independence Day) sets him up with an apartment and a job (dressing bodies at a funeral home), but at one of the services, he meets Laurel (Leoni), and decides to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, where he finds a sponsor named Tom (Luke Wilson, The Royal Tenenbaums) who helps him get started on the rehab process.
This film seems to be a change of pace for some of the cast members. Aside from Leoni being in a role that’s actually, you know, good. Wilson is lower key and not as funny as you’d expect in the supporting role, but Kingsley is effective in playing a man who is without a lot in his life other than killing, and when he meets Laurel, he’s not sure how to reconcile that in himself. Complicating matters is a pending gang war between Frank’s family and the Irish, who were supposed to be castrated by Frank’s last job.
The script by Markus and McFeely has been kicked around for awhile, and overall the story isn’t vastly different from any other romance where the protagonist has lost something and found a new love which changes him. But it’s how the story is told, with solid performances by Kingsley and Leoni, and it’s quirky sense of humor that it revels in that makes it endearing. If there’s one problem with it, it’s that Leoni seems to want to learn more about Frank and what he does, and there’s an almost Karate Kid-like montage of her “training” with Frank that is pointless, but otherwise, I enjoyed watching You Kill Me.
Surprisingly there’s a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track for the film, but it goes pretty unused. Dialogue is mostly focused in the center channel, though surround usage is infrequent, as is low end subwoofer activity, but it sounds adequate for the most part.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film is a little bit better than I was expecting. The film was color adjusted to some degree for the Buffalo greys, and various other color sources were used in some interiors as well, giving it a vivid palette. The image possessed a little less clarity than other features on some of the tight shots, though.
Dahl, Markus and McFeely contribute a commentary for the film, which was the biggest extra on the disc. They start things out in a rather AA-type fashion, which is kind of funny, but they also talk about how the film came together, what drew them to it, and other stories surrounding the production. Because the script had been in circulation awhile before realization, there’ s a lot of technological advances that made it moot, which they mention as well. Things are pretty jovial, all considered, but they do spend some time watching the film, so silence is an expectation. But it winds up being a pretty enjoyable and informative track. There’s a ten minute making of look at the film which consists of the usual EPK and on-set featurette material, and there’s a five minute visual effects examination of some scenes in the film, which was a surprise to me as I hadn’t noticed any visual enhancement, not that I was paying attention.
At the very least, You Kill Me tells an old story in a new way, so that has to be admired. The performances are decent, and while a couple of the extras are silly, the commentary is decent. This charming little film will be snapped up by those who have seen it, but for the uninitiated, I’d give it a rent before making that decision. Nastrovia!