Movie > FilmThe Merry Gentleman
A Michael Keaton sighting these days is so rare and magical, like seeing a unicorn in the desert, that we're willing to forgive him just about anything, even the beyond clichéd premise of a depressed hit man in need of redemption. Keaton directs and stars as Frank Logan, a morose hired gunman who's lost the will to live, and after a bit of rooftop sniping, hops up on the ledge, ready to leap off. Lucky for him he's got an angel of mercy on the ground who happens to be looking up, in the form of sweetly skittish Kate (Kelly Macdonald), whose scream jolts Frank out of his stupor. He seeks her out, perhaps to simply rub out a witness, but ends up helping her with her Christmas tree and becoming her unlikely friend and protector. And Kate needs protecting, from a vaguely stalker-like cop (Tom Bastounes) who keeps asking her out, and from the abusive husband she's run away from.
The action, if you can call it that, happens in what appears to be Chicago, though no specifics are ever given, and that lack of place furthers the movie's feeling of alienation.
This is the very definition of a "sleeper," a nearly inert film that uses its ellipses as punctuation, letting the viewer fill in the many blanks. Keaton's direction, like his acting, is all nuance and mood, with long thoughtful takes, interesting angles and composition that hints at emerging talent. His acting ability is never in doubt; with his intense stares he milks silence for all it's worth, and he's nicely matched with the gently charming Macdonald, who is as comforting as a toasted marshmallow.
If he actually had a budget Keaton might have been able to hire some better actors to fill out the supporting cast, but everyone outside of the leads feels distinctly summer stock. It would also be nice to see him work with a script that wasn't quite so clunky, and bogged down with hackneyed religious hokum and pretentious brooding.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.