The Merry Gentleman
2009, R, 110 min. Directed by Michael Keaton. Starring Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald, Tom Bastounes, Bobby Cannavale, Darlene Hunt, Guy Van Swearingen.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 17, 2009
This dark, quiet, but mildly stirring movie about a laconic hit man suffering from walking pneumonia of the lungs and soul (Keaton) and an angelic receptionist (Macdonald) in flight from her physically abusive husband (Cannavale) is destined to be best remembered as Keaton's debut as a director and for Macdonald's lovely portrayal of another damaged survivor (No Country for Old Men, Trainspotting). Keaton was already cast as the ironically referenced “merry gentleman” of the title when screenwriter and intended director Ron Lazzeretti fell ill shortly before shooting began and the actor took over the helm. Unfortunately, the ironic tone of the Christmastime title doesn’t extend past the obvious contradiction, and few traces of humor or lightness of touch are to be found anywhere else in the movie. Filled more with character studies than narrative intrigues, The Merry Gentleman also provides only sketchy personality details and background information. We never learn what makes Keaton’s proficient hit man Frank Logan suicidal at the outset: Completing a hit from a rooftop across the way from his target, he leans toward the ledge as Macdonald’s Kate Frazier leaves work while talking about angels and happening to look up, sees Frank, screams, and causes him to flee. The next day when the cops learn about the dead man in the building across the street, they return to interview Kate, suspecting the man she saw on the roof had something to do with the shooting. One of the detectives (Bastounes) is taken with Kate (as is most everyone who comes into the orbit of this mysterious woman with the charming Scottish lilt in her voice). Frank (whose name is an ironic contradiction to his nature) also feels a bond toward this woman, and these two sad souls indirectly become each other’s guardian angel. Adding to the story’s gloom are the dark urban streets of Chicago, where the story is set. With the help of cinematographer Chris Seager, Keaton places the characters firmly within this landscape so that their very stolidity makes their more enigmatic qualities seem somewhat grounded. Still, the story moves slowly and deliberately, and these emotively placed human chess pieces are often our only narrative guide. Maybe it’s for the best since the story tropes about angels and assassins are fairly shopworn, but the reticence of The Merry Gentleman adds little new to the tradition.