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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

August 8, 2007
Rating: 8/10

I have a theory about mob movies and the way we perceive them in the 21st Century. I believe we have absorbed Tony Soprano as our "real mobster" baseline, and therefore every film or television show that attempts to depict mafia culture is bound to seem artificial in comparison. That damn HBO show is so well done and arresting that it would take a director (let's call him "Scorcese") making a film (let's call it "The Departed") in an entirely different direction in order for it to be taken seriously.

That being said, you have to feel a little sorry for director John Dahl, whose new film You Kill Me, with its scattered scenes of mob life in Buffalo, would have been much more chilling had it been released in, say, 1998. At this point, mob bosses and second generation nationality wars feel a little derivative and fail to shock as much as they are probably supposed to. Philip Baker Hall and Dennis Farina, as the respective heads of conflicting Polish and Irish families in Buffalo, don't really deliver the same sort of complexity of character as Ben Kingsley's portrayal of a wayward mobster who has been sent by his uncle (Hall) to the west coast in an attempt to curb his alcoholism.

A Polish mobster in San Francisco going to AA meetings and trying to score with Tea Leoni?! While Bill Pullman watches on?? There you have it, you've hit the combination of unlikely circumstances that provide the meat of Dahl's comedy and prevent it from sinking into post-Sopranos obscurity (may I take this opportunity to remind you of The Whole Nine Yards? Or maybe Analyze This?)*. Luckily, You Kill Me has a killer script and acting that nails it (I am relieved to report that there is hope for Luke Wilson yet).

I imagine that it is a dream to direct Ben Kingsley. The guy seems to be able to add depth to any film (certainly, Leoni, Wilson, and Pullman (!) couldn't have carried this film on their own, no matter how startlingly good they all were). It's either his character, the troubled yet simple Frank Falenczyk, that gets all the laughs or other characters' reactions to him. The audience in my theater definitely hurled themselves with abandon into the "dark comedy zone," which is that special place for those that understand that the film they are watching is, in fact, funny. When they're in the zone, they're so ready to show that they're "with it" enough to get the jokes that they tend to laugh at every line, cut, and close up. And when I say "laugh" I mean "hearty guffaws that easily eclipse the next soft-spoken line out of Kingsley's mouth," so, in all honesty, I really only heard 50% of the jokes, but I'm willing to bet they were brilliant. While I was waiting for the hand-clapping and the hooting to die down, I at least took solace in the pretty shots.

I mean, yes, possibly a mobster who goes to rehab is the same sort of device as a mobster who goes to a shrink. And yes, maybe You Kill Me capitalizes on the way we have learned to embrace the human elements of those who commit crimes against humanity. I might have felt guilty about this if I hadn't been too concerned with whether or not Frank took a drink before he shot someone, or whether his date will go well, or whether Bill Pullman could get any cooler.


*The very fact that it took several minutes and inquiries to friends to even remember the names of those films and their ridiculous sequels provides the counter argument to any "But wait those were kind of OK?" statements you might be making. Be honest, hadn't you forgotten about them? **

**I am well aware that both of them star former Friends actors, and I have shed many a tear over the decline of my favorite sitcom. But then I remember that they are all billionaires and don't need our money. Or our pity.

SEE ALSO: www.youkillmethefilm.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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