Wednesday, September 20, 2006
John Dahl returns to form with ‘You Kill Me’
John Dahl is a veteran director with enough acclaim to generate anticipation for each impending film but little to zero name recognition. His early films, “Kill Me Again” (1989), “Red Rock West” (1992) and “The Last Seduction” (1994) gave rise to the neo-noir movement. More recently, there have been missteps, “Unforgettable” (1996), a mystery starring his “Last Seduction” star Linda Fiorentino, “Rounders” (1998), a poker drama, and the road-trip thriller “Joy Ride” (2001), which Dahl re-shot after test audiences did not react well to the ending. But I have always thought of Dahl as a survivor in a business that makes it hard for independent-minded craftsmen to survive. You just know that he’ll be back with another feature no matter how many setbacks are tossed his way.
The last time I spoke with Dahl he was in Cincinnati to screen his Bataan Death March drama “The Great Raid” to a 2005 convention of World War II veterans. He thanked the elderly men and their spouses for coming to the riverfront multiplex; singled out a few men for special kudos and left them to watch a dramatic version of what many of them experienced sixty-three years prior.
Over coffee at an adjacent restaurant, Dahl and I did not talk much about “The Great Raid.” Like many of his admirers, I tend to focus on his early, no-budget movies. But he hinted at a new film he was considering to direct, the mob comedy “You Kill Me,” just picked up by IFC Films for a nationwide release in 2007.
In the film, Ben Kingley plays Frank, an alcoholic hit man who attempts sobriety by working at a mortuary. Mucking up his get-straight plans is Laurel (Téa Leoni), the type of ballsy woman character found in Dahl’s best films.
Leoni, who spurts rat-tat-tat banter like a modern-day Barbara Stanwyck, has a kindred spirit in Dahl (Leoni must know this since she produced the film). The two of them are capable of making something truly special; not to discount Kingley’s contribution to the mix. “You Kill Me” leads to what I have always thought about Dahl. He consistently makes the opportunity for one more triumph.