Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Merry Gentleman

"Fat Man Doesn't Want to be Fat—Still Eats the Fries"

Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald) has escaped an abusive relationship from her policeman-husband (Bobby Cannavale), and is now hiding out in another town, anonymous, working, and giving varying excuses for the "shiner" she's sporting. She doesn't want to get involved, but ends up fighting off questions and the advances from all sorts of flawed men. That includes the police detective (Tom Bastounes, who will go far, I'll bet) investigating the "jumper" that Kate saved the same night that a man in her office building was killed by a sharp-shooter across the street.

What she doesn't know and the detective suspects is that they were one and the same man. Tom Logan (
Michael Keaton) is a tailor by day, but freelances as a hitman in Chicago. He's good at both jobs, but only one of them makes him suicidal. And in one of the neat touches of the screenplay, Kate and Tom have this odd habit of saving each other's lives.

Actors want to direct. But not all actors can. For every vain-glorious exercise of star-clout, there are the actors—like Redford, Gibson, even Ben Affleck—who surprise you and make you realize that they probably should have always been behind the camera.

Add Michael Keaton to the list. The duality that he's displayed on-screen—at least the conflict between the comedic and the dangerous—is just as potent in "The Merry Gentleman," his directorial debut.
Spare, austere, almost seeming like a British mystery, Keaton lures you with a tightly static camera that lulls you until it starts to move, as it does rarely. Keaton the director is extremely generous with his actors, holding back his own performance—it's all in his eyes—, deepening the mystery, while providing great showcases for the rest of the cast—all of whom feel they walked in on the set from their day-jobs being those people. Kelly MacDonald (the Scottish actress who played Josh Brolin's wife in "No Country for Old Men") has the most prominent role, trying to maintain a happy face on her own double life, trying to avoid past mistakes and failing miserably, something she has in common with most of the characters in the film. It's an incredibly assured directing debut (of a good screenplay by Ron Lazzeretti), with only a couple stumbles on ancillary characters where things aren't as tight—and that's because Keaton didn't go for a close-up. He was shooting for the movies, not for TV. That's the kind of mistake I'll take.

"The Merry Gentleman" is an interesting little movie—it feels like it's been told before (hitman finds he has feelings)—but never in so subtle or so clever a way. It's well worth seeing. And I'm looking forward to Keaton's next directing job.

"The Merry Gentleman" is a Matinee

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