Frank (Ben Kingsley) is a hitman for a Polish crime family in Buffalo, New York. His drinking is getting in the way of his job. He finally goes too far, when he fails to kill the head of the Irish mob that is trying to take over their territory, because he drank too much and fell asleep.
His Uncle Roman (the head of the family) tells him he can’t be trusted to do his job anymore unless he sobers up. The flip side of the threat is that he won’t be allowed to work for anyone else either (you know that can’t be good). So he tells Frank he needs to go to San Francisco and get sober. It will remove him from the business and give him the space he needs to focus on quitting drinking. Plus they have someone out there that can keep an eye on him.
Dave (the contact) sets him up with an apartment, a job (working in a funeral parlor) and sends him to the closest AA meeting. Frank adjusts quickly to his new job, especially since he really doesn’t have a problem with dead bodies. The AA meetings are another story. He sits in the back and keeps to himself. At least until he is approached by Tom (Luke Wilson). They spend some time talking and Tom is able to get Frank to start thinking seriously about quitting drinking. He even becomes his sponsor.
Frank meets Laurel (Tea Leoni) while prepping her stepfather for his funeral. She comes into the back room to give him bowling shoes that they want him buried in. They are both rather unusual characters, which is probably why they hit if off, at least enough to agree to get coffee together sometime.
Frank spends more time with Tom talking about his issues. He even hangs out in Tom’s tollbooth with him. Tom works a booth on the Golden Gate Bridge. Even though they are very different from each other, a real friendship develops between them. Frank and Laurel do start dating and we get to watch the ups and downs of their relationship. While all this is going on, pretty much all hell breaks loose back in Buffalo. The O’Leary and his Irish mob start moving in and causing trouble for Frank’s family (the Polish mob).
This is a wonderful movie, full of dark humor and terrific dialogue. It’s an interesting storyline and the three main actors are great (Ben, Tea and Luke). Although, I would say Ben really steals the show. While his character is a tough and ruthless hitman, he is also a genuinely nice guy. Ben is able to show both sides of the character and makes him loveable. He is able to nail the dramatic, tense scenes and the comedic scenes equally as well. His portrayal is what makes it a movie where you root for the hitman.
Some of my favorite scenes (without being too spoilery):
I like when Frank is shoveling the snow from his walkway. For incentive he throws his bottle of vodka a ways in front of him, where it sinks down into the snow. He then has to remove the snow up to that point in order to have a drink.
The scene when Dave takes Frank to his new job at the funeral parlor is great. I love how obstinate Frank is about it. He really doesn’t want the job and is being difficult. So Dave says that he will have to make a call to Buffalo, instantly Frank gives up (although you can tell he still isn’t happy about it).
Frank and Laurel meeting in the funeral parlor was so funny. I loved the slightly awkward conversation between them and that they were both so matter of fact about things. I thought Ben and Tea had great chemistry too.
Some of my favorite quotes:
Uncle Roman – “Every time we send you out I have to make a call to find out if they’re dead.”
Stef – “So do you hate me now ‘cause I did this?”
Frank – “Right now. Pretty much.”
Stef – “It won’t last.”
Frank – “Try me.”
Tom – “Hi. This your first time?”
Frank – “I’ve had cookies before.”
Laurel – “Even people you don’t like die.”
Frank – “Yeah, I was thinkin’ he kinda looked like a prick. If you don’t mind me saying.”
Frank – “Do you mind if I ask what you do?”
Laurel – “I sell time.”
Frank – “I thought that was still free.”
Laurel – “Besides, if I had to deal with dead bodies all day, I’d be drinking too.”
Frank – “Oh, I’m okay with the dead bodies.”
Frank – “I missed dinner last night because I got drunk with little Irish people.”
Frank – “You shoot somebody, you should kill them. I saw the need for precision.”
Stef – “Wow, he’s really opening up.”
Following is additional information about the show that contains spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read any further.
The scene in the tollbooth when Frank tells Tom that he is a hired killer is fabulous. I love how matter of fact Frank is about it all. He also talks about how sometimes killing got in the way of his drinking and sometimes drinking got in the way of his killing. I liked how calmly Tom took it all in. You could see his emotions briefly pass over his face as he processed the information and tried to figure out if he was being told the truth, but he never freaked out about it.
It was fun to watch Laurel help Frank with his “hitman” training. Timing him as he snuck up on people without being detected, going to the shooting range, learning how to handle a knife, etc. Then to see it pay off later in the movie when she saves Frank’s life.
I was happy when Frank killed O’Leary. Even though it won’t bring back the family members that O’Leary and his gang killed it did put an end to his brief and highly violent reign. It also gave Frank a bit of closure. Since he felt it was all his fault because he botched the job in the beginning.