by NIR SHALEV
Frank Falenczyk (Sir Ben Kingsley) is a hitman for the Polish mob, if ever there was such a thing. Problem is he has a terrible alcohol problem. One night while on duty but drunk, he falls asleep in his car while his boss’s competition boards a train that he “wasn’t supposed to.” Frank is picked up in the morning by his peers and his boss Roman (veteran character actor Philip Baker Hall) sends him to San Francisco to sober up. That’s where the film picks up its humor and never lets up.
The idea of an alcoholic hitman is rather humorous but luckily, the film doesn’t fire all pistons from the get-go and doesn’t falter in the long run. Once situated in San Francisco, Frank is given a house to live in and a job as a mortician’s assistant (insert joke here). There he befriends a “client’s” daughter, Laurel (Téa Leoni) and they hit it off. And where the film really starts to work is at the AA meetings that Frank attends. This is a character-driven romantic comedy/thriller and we notice that Frank’s out of his element. At the AA meetings, he snickers at those that pour their hearts out before everyone else but before long he’s picked by a sponsor, Tom (Luke Wilson). The cast also includes Dennis Farina as Roman’s competition O’Leary and Bill Pullman as a sniveling real estate agent who believes that Frank can do him a favor in return for finding him a house.
The film constantly goes back and forth between Buffalo, where Roman is losing all of his territories to O’Leary because O’Leary’s using the Chinese mob’s money to buy up the known mob territories in Buffalo, and San Francisco, where Frank sobers up, has wonderful relationships with Laurel and Tom and is even able to confide in those at the AA meetings that he’s a hitman. Quotes like this one make one chuckle at the words and the silence in the room: “I don’t know the exact definition of an alcoholic but from what I’m hearing here, sounds like I am a pretty good one; I’m an even better killer. I wanna do it again. I will do it again. And I know now the only way I’m gonna get to do it again is if I stop drinking. Forever. …And I’m really scared.” However, after a few seconds, the true meaning of the words creeps into the back of our minds and our smiles fade away. This is a somewhat plausible situation and Kingsley’s delivery is performed with frankness.
What I most like about the film is Kingsley’s representation of Frank: he’s always dressed in black, tight fitting clothes and has almost no personality. As a hitman, he’s managed to separate himself from his feeling and so he comes off as a sort of sociopath, but the path to recovery starts from within and he channels his emotions and is able to begin the recovery process. An alcoholic is a person that believes that they have a problem and so they begin traveling on the road to recovery, and not beforehand. So when Frank becomes an alcoholic is when the film really tells you what it’s all about.
It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s well shot, the performances are terrific, and the script is spot on. And yet, this is a film that many people hadn’t heard of. That’s why this is my DVD of the Week selection, so that those reading this review can tell others of this seldom-heard-of title. This is a good film to watch on a rainy day or when one is in a happy mood. This is a film for everyone… except little children, obviously.
The DVD comes with a commentary track featuring director John Dahl and the film’s writers; a Behind the Scenes Featurette; and a Before and After Visual Effects Comparison because the film was shot in Manitoba and some of the Buffalo winter scenes needed CG snow. It’s kind of neat.
New releases this week: Bridesmaids