Friday, August 16, 2013

Film Pairings — Two By Dahl: You Kill Me And The Last Seduction

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to imagine the lives of strangers. These are people I’ve seen on the streets or in restaurants. I have always been curious about what went on inside the house I just passed as I walked my dog or behind the glass of the apartment window as the train on the Chicago’s “L” rolled between the high rises.  What’s with the guy sitting alone at the bar for hours, or on a park bench?  Sometime I make up exotic stories about them. Most likely, they have average lives, caught up in a routine, paying the bills, getting by.  Or they might be damaged, seemingly heartless, perhaps even unknowable characters who somehow get inside your mind and cause trouble.  They might live in a world created by film director John Dahl, in which case the lives aren’t ordinary or routine.

Ben Kingsley
In one of Dahl’s worlds, Ben Kingsley plays a Polish hit man in the film You Kill Me.  Aside from a little problem with alcoholism, he lives a quiet, solitary, one might say empty, life in a rundown but livable house in a blue-collar neighborhood in Buffalo.  He considers himself a professional with standards. But a botched hit renders him unemployed and steals the last bit of self-respect that alcohol hadn’t already stolen.  His former employer — an uncle who aside from family allegiance still needs his skills — sends the hitman off to California to dry out.  “What?  They have nothing to drink in San Francisco?” Kingsley asks.  In San Francisco, the disoriented hitman finds himself interacting with other slightly off-kilter characters, and life gathers meaning.  This is Kingsley’s movie, but the supporting cast is stellar, with fine performances by Téa Lioni, Luke Wilson, and Bill Pullman. And how could you go wrong with and the late, great Dennis Farina?

Linda Fiorentino
If The Last Seduction were made in the 1940s — and it would have fit right in — Lauren Bacall would have been a perfect seductress.  As it was filmed in 1994, Linda Fiorentino has to be the only choice.  She is the neo-noir girl. Sexy, tough, amoral and merciless.  She hooks up with a shady doctor-to-be (Bill Pullman), deciding, when the opportunity presents itself, to rip him off for $700,000 and leaves him to be savaged by loan sharks. But the doc, rather than tending to a broken heart and broken bones, decides vengeance is good for what ails him.  She decides to hide in a small town for a while, but Pullman tracks her down.  The seductress finds a more gullible young man (Peter Berg) to play with, to satisfy her sexual appetite and to eventually help her get rid of her pursuer once and for all. Here Dahl deftly blends both a plot- and character-driven drama.  This is an especially good film.

To accompany the films and taking the lead from Mr. Kingsley’s character, sip a little Chopin, one of Poland’s prime vodkas.  Your choice, spirits made from wheat, or rye, or potatoes. 

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