Thursday, July 26, 2007

You Kill Me (2007)

One thing I always note about independent films such as You Kill Me (2007) is someone, somewhere, probably right this second, is crowing about the superior quality of independent films, how they are smarter, better acted, better written, and just all around better than brain-dead Hollywood blockbusters such as Transformers (2007) or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) to name just 2 recent Hollywood blockbusters.

Of course, some of us fail to see the appeal. As a general rule independent movies have fewer writers which is sometimes good, sometimes bad. As any accomplished writer can tell you, sometimes it is extremely helpful to have friends to bounce ideas off of. Blockbusters generally have more camera angles (and better film stock), better music, and, frankly, more entertaining plots. There is a reason independent movies have limited release...they usually have limited audiences. Every so often you might find a hit that spreads by word of mouth but for the most part the cold hard truth is this; independents deliver a lower level of enjoyment to a larger audience and thus experience smaller audiences.

It has always amused me how independent junkies are among the most elitist of all people as if they are smarter, hipper, more educated, and better qualified to judge the quality of movies...not just for them self but for others. Yes, I see the irony in my critiques...but then again, I am reporting how I feel about movies, not how you should. I may have absolutely no interest in something like Waitress (2007) but that does not mean I don't see how you could enjoy it. After all, someone, somewhere thought Vanilla Sky (2001) was good. If you ever feel like one more bad movie would put you over the hump to quitting your movie habit forever, just watch that. This commentary has been a public service announcement.

The long and short of this preamble is when I go to an independent movie I keep in mind it probably will have slightly lower levels of writing, cinematography, and special effects. On the other hand, it will likely have more to say.

You Kill Me clearly had a lot to say. It never really figured out if it was a comedy (it is based around a Polish mob hit man) that forgot to be funny, a drama (it is based around a mob war) that forgot to have tension, or an anti-drinking manifesto but it had a lot to say.

The protagonist is Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley), a droll, hard drinking hit man for a small Polish mob family...the entire family seems to consists of 5 members. They actually have more snow plows than members...which in itself is a commentary on the diminished grip the mob has in American life today. Frank drinks all the time...when he is shoveling snow at his Buffalo home, when he is on a stakeout for a hit, when he gets home, when he...well, you get the picture.

After he misses a key hit on Irish mob boss Dennis Farina (Edward O'Leary) because he was drunk and sleeping he is sent across country to San Fransisco to get sober. There he is put in a job at a funeral home and ordered into AA meetings.

It is here writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely really hit their stride as they hit the loneliness, desperation, hope, and patheticness of an AA meeting. The pains and sorrows of addictions and the plaintive, self-flagellating attempts at self-redemption are mirrored into the cold, dead-fish acting of Kingsley.

After a funeral where Frank meets equally dead-fish, dead eyed, dragging through life ad-seller Laurel Pearson (Tea Leoni) his life changes slightly as he begins to show joy, interest in things other than drinking and killing...he actually changes his expression!

His openness to fellow AA member Tom (Luke Wilson) about his hit-man career leads to openness with the AA people, then Laurel.

Meanwhile, the family is getting steamrolled by Farina and his boys. While Frank struggles with a budding relationship, drinking relapses, coming to grips with getting rid of alcohol from his life, the family struggles with severed relationships as the Irish push the Poles out of various scams, they are forbidden parts for their plows, and struggle to retain their very lives.

Finally the Farina family moves in and kills all but one member of the family who calls Frank. He, having just relapsed into drinking a second time and, in his drunken stupor aimed his gun at a stranger on his porch, which proved to be Laurel, decides to go back to Buffalo to avenge his family...and leave the complications of failing her when he fails to refrain from drinking. She follows him to the airport where it becomes clear she wants to work past her issues to be with him but he is so afraid of his drinking that he leaves her, literally and figuratively, at the boarding gate.

In the climax she surprises him by showing up to save him from an assassin, then joins him in revenging himself on Farina.

Ultimately the movie is slow-paced, dry, and thought-provoking. The acting is quite subdued and the story very personal. One gets the impression that one or more of the writers has experience with the alcohol addiction/AA cycle and is trying to expunge that part of their past by portraying it on the scene. You will not find any of the glitzy blow-everything-up scenes like you might in the climactic wipe-out of the enemies in The Godfather (1972) or the chases of Heat (1995) but you will find a highly personal and entertaining tale that might bring a chuckle or two to your face.

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