"I'm in Personnel," he tells people. "Oh, you hire people?" he's asked. "Well, it's more like I fire them," he explains.
Frank fires them by shooting them, usually in the head. He's the designated hit man for a small Polish crime family far from the hot action in Vegas or New York. He -- and his masters, the Krzeminskis -- are stuck in Buffalo, where since the stakes are so small, the action is really intense. The Krzeminskis are losing their turf in John Dahl's acerbic, mordant noir tickler "You Kill Me." But Frank has more intimate problems, namely the quart of warm gin he drinks -- every half-hour. When he sleeps through a hit, the benevolent Roman Krzeminski (Philip Baker Hall) orders that he be sent to San Francisco to dry out in a 12-step program.
That's the black joke at the center of "You Kill Me," expertly written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely: If AA can restore fallen sinners to sainthood, it can also restore fallen saints to sinnerhood.
In San Francisco, Frank (the great Ben Kingsley) gets a job (helped by smarmy Dave, played by Bill Pullman) in a funeral home, where it turns out he has a gift, not merely for ending life but for manipulating the corpse so that he or she looks better. At one service, Frank meets Laurel (Téa Leoni), a woman who has been around the block a time or 200, and she likes Frank's directness, while he likes her unflappability. This is one of the greatest screwball relationships in years.
Dahl is a wonderful filmmaker with a number of equally small-scale but superior crime-based entertainments. (See Film Notes on Page 36.) More commonly they're about predatory sociopaths and the innocent fools who get in their way. ("The Last Seduction," with Peter Berg, Linda Fiorentino and Pullman, was the best.) His foray into big-budget filmmaking with "The Great Raid" was well executed but entirely lacking in personality. With "You Kill Me," he's back where he belongs, in a completely amoral world delivered with wit and incisiveness, and great twists.
-- Stephen Hunter (June 22, 2007)
Contains violence and profanity.