The Merry Gentleman

The Merry Gentleman

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Editor's note: This review was written after the film screened at Sundance 2008

At 56, you could say that actor Michael Keaton's directorial debut has been a long time coming. In fact, it wouldn't have come at all if a ruptured appendix hadn't stopped writer Ron Lazzeretti from also stepping into the director's chair. But despite the rather odd circumstances that brought about his first foray behind the camera, Keaton acquits himself with aplomb. There is both a warmth and a reserve to this film which, while covering serious ground, has a gentle humour running throughout.

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Keaton stars as Frank Logan, a loner with a hacking cough whom, we learn in a beautifully played set-up sequence, is a hitman with suicidal tendencies.

This desire to kill himself causes his path to cross with that of Kate. She has her own problems, having moved to a new town for a fresh start after being used as a punchbag by her cop husband one too many times. One night, as she leaves the office in the run-up to Christmas, she spots a man on the roof opposite, about to jump. It's in her nature to do something, and so she inadvertently saves Frank's life.

Although too far away to see who the jumper is, she calls the police to report it, and moves on. Frank, however, has got a good look at her, and it isn't long before he engineers a meeting over a Christmas tree and they form an unlikely friendship. He's hiding his line of work from her, she's keeping a lid on her past. Throw in the romantic aspirations of the cop (Tom Bastounes) she dealt with over the attempted suicide and the stage is set for redemption. And trouble.

The idea of three loners - solo for very different reasons - whose paths cross, may sound like a recipe for silence more than sizzle. But though the dialogue is sparse, the leads make the silence speak volumes. Where the plot machcinations require a leap of faith, the actors help bridge the gap. The emotions expressed here go beyond the common drama fare of love and hate, to touch on more uncertain emotions, such as anguish, low self-esteem, hope and aspiration. And the idea of what makes someone 'evil' is held up to the light - killing for a living is a bad thing, but what about manipulating relationships, doesn't that also come with casualties?

Macdonald has returned triumphantly to the public eye in the past year - and not before time. After early success in films such as Trainspotting and Stella Does Tricks she slipped rather unfairly into bit-part obscurity. Now she is back with a bang, following the success of No Country For Old Men, with both this and a role in upcoming Chuck Palahniuk adaptation Choke. This is arguably the best of the three performances as, unencumbered by an American accent, the full force of her 100-watt glow as an actress comes across - she lifts the scenes she's in to a higher level.

Keaton is also excellent as Frank, and he shows a keen eye for laidback direction, letting the action unfold at a leisurely, but charming, pace. Meanwhile, Bobby Cannavale, as Kate's abusive spouse, proves again that he is too often overlooked as an actor in an almost unbearably tense scene that may see you leave nail marks in the cinema seat armrest.

Despite the easy nature of the drama and a gradual unfolding which may try the patience of some, The Merry Gentleman manages to retain an offbeat edge that stops it being predictable. It may not have huge appeal to younger members of the audience, but anyone in their 30s or above is likely to won over by its grace and subtlety.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2008
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A woman who has fled her past strikes up a relationship with another loner - not realising he works as a hitman.

Director: Michael Keaton

Writer: Ron Lazzeretti

Starring: Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald, Tom Bastounes, Mike Bradecich, Debbi Burns, Maritza Cabrera, Bobby Cannavale, William Dick, Jay Disney, Sean Fortunato, Shaun Gayle

Year: 2008

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US

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Sundance 2008

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