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You Kill Me

(2007) *** R
92 min. IFC Films. Director: John Dahl. Cast: Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni, Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall.

Sir Ben Kingsley plays a hitman who reluctantly joins Alcoholics Anonymous in You Kill Me, a black comedy directed by John Dahl (Joyride, The Last Seduction). As written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia, You Kill Me is a surprisingly resonant examination of getting sober, made amusing by the assassin's increasing honesty about his career. It's all in the character arc as Kingsley's Frank Falenczyk goes from darkly sarcastic, antisocial, and vodka-swilling to a man accepting of the possibility of change for the better.

As he attempts to get his act together, he makes friends with his sponsor (pleasingly laconic Luke Wilson) and finds romance with Téa Leoni. "I'm in personnel," he tells her. "Hiring?" she asks. "More like firing," he replies. The great pleasure of You Kill Me is that it remains grounded despite its unusual premise. In Buffalo, they talk of perogis; in San Francisco, they talk about feelings. Leoni's tough cookie Laurel may have comically sharp edges, but—perhaps precisely because she's self-aware of her own defensive bluntness— can size up a killer and conclude, "Nobody's perfect."

You Kill Me is fairly lightweight, but consistently amusing and well-acted. Leoni and Kingsley evince a nice chemistry, and their conviction helps us to believe against belief that two people who don't want to be lonely anymore can get past one of them being a paid assassin. Kingsley is, as ever, an alert, feral presence on screen; when he says the "dark meat" in him doesn't want to change, you believe him. But this time Kingsley makes us believe that his character can change, and for the better. And after all, how bad can Kingsley's character be when he makes the Golden Gate Bridge the God of his understanding?

[For Groucho's interview with Téa Leoni & John Dahl, click here.]

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