Merry Gentleman, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/28/09 12:24:26
(Worth A Look)
"The Merry Gentleman" is one of those movies that appears at the local boutique theater for a blink-and-miss-it one-week engagement with just about zero fanfare, and I probably would have missed it if I hadn't noticed Michael Keaton's name in the credits, both as star and director. He's not the best reason to see the movie - co-star Kelly Macdonald is - but he is the one that got me into a film I might have otherwise skipped.Keaton plays Frank Logan, a Chicago hitman whose job is making him despondent to the point of being suicidal; he doesn't talk much. Macdonald is Kate Frazier, a nice Scottish girl who, as the film opens, has packed up and left her abusive husband (he is also a policeman, which tends to smooth over any domestic violence reports). One night in December, Kate looks up to see Frank perched on a ledge (she doesn't know someone in her building has just been shot); her shout causes him to fall backward rather than forward. A few days later, they meet again - Frank has a target in her building, and winds up helping her with her Christmas tree. They grow close, but there are secrets and complications: Dave Murcheson (Tom Bastounes), the detective investigating Frank's hits, is also attracted to Kate, and as an audience, we kind of know that they didn't hire Bobby Cannavale to play Kate's husband if he's only going to appear in one wordless scene.
Writer Ron Lazzeretti doesn't fill us in much on how Frank and Kate got to their positions: We never learn why Logan is knocking various people off (or even whether he's a hired gun versus an interested party), nor how Kate wound up in America and married to Michael. We don't need to; our initial introductions to the pair tell us pretty much all we need to about who they are right now, and that's all we need to know. In fact, we probably learn as much about Dave's background as we do about Frank and Kate put together, because Dave is chatty and self-justifying in a way that Frank and Kate are not.
Frank's laconic nature is probably Keaton's biggest stumble as both actor and director, and it's on display early on. It takes what seems like forever for Frank to speak his first lines, including a couple of scenes where he's obviously staying silent to some effect because talking would make much more sense, and all it does is call attention to a gimmick that doesn't have much in the way of payoff. Keaton often seems to be trying very hard to be low-key, and it occasionally looks too studied.
He may just have problems with directing himself, because most of his direction is good, if not necessarily attention-grabbing. He can work various types of tension fairly well, and the rest of the cast seldom falters. He also makes sure to choose some fine collaborators: Lazzeretti's script is peppered with interesting characters, most of whom act in a reasonable way most of the time, and between them Lazzeretti and Keaton avoid spelling more out than necessary. Chris Seager's photography is also very nice; the film has a properly chilly atmosphere, but can still put across the beauty of falling snow, for instance.
That's good, because Macdonald's Kate is the sort who would appreciate it. Macdonald makes it very clear early on that Kate is not defined by her history of domestic violence. She's got that down cold, from Kate always seeming to have her guard up to the earnest but transparent way she tries to explain her black eye, but that's not the entire character. She's a naturally cheerful, good-hearted person, but doesn't overdo it.
The rest of the cast does their jobs well. Bobby Cannavale has a small part but it's an absolutely memorable one (really, you don't want to see anyone with the sort of certainty he has). Darlene Hunt is pleasant in the role of Kate's friend and co-worker. Tom Bastounes has a nifty supporting role as Murcheson, making him likable enough but with just enough hints of maybe being humanly selfish in his dealings with Kate. It's a thoroughly convincing, intriguingly linked group of characters, and the cast does a fine job of bringing them to life.Looked at as a movie about a sad assassin, the movie is only so-so. The half of the movie that features Kelly Macdonald, though, has a sneaky way of pulling one in, even if it's not what initially caught the eye.
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