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The Merry Gentleman

Michael Keaton

The Merry Gentleman

Director:Michael Keaton
Cast:Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald, Tom Bastounes, Mike Bradecich
Release Date:2008

Opens June 26 at the Charles Theatre

By Bret McCabe | Posted 6/24/2009

Michael Keaton's directorial debut The Merry Gentleman is an odd and oddly absorbing drama about two people who value their personal privacy above all else. It opens with two unrelated scenes that convey why that might be: Frank (a taciturn Keaton) looks like a generic reserved older man sitting on a park bench. He favors newsboy hats, long overcoats, and black leather gloves, and is innocuous enough to move about town without anybody paying him any mind. And then he casually watches three men leave a bar, follows one of them to an SUV, and puts a bullet in his head. Kate (Kelly Macdonald, using her native Scottish accent) waits for her husband to go to work one morning and then flees, a friend taking her to an airport, a move explained by her frightened dog demeanor and black eye.

What follows is an intimately deliberate story about these two people discovering something in each other that their lives didn't have before. In a new city Kate gets an apartment and administrative assistant job, befriending her coworker Diane (Darlene Hunt) but very much keeping to herself. Leaving work one night Kate foils what she presumes to be a man's suicide attempt to jump off a nearby building. That man is Frank, who sees her better than she could see him; he was atop the building to shoot a mark, a hit man going wherever the job takes him.

That scenario is an awkward twist of the meet-cute setup, but everything about Gentleman feels purposely awkward. Keaton favors long takes and quiet scenes here, and the result is less a glacial pace than a movie that doesn't telegraph where it's headed. Frank decides to pay Kate a visit at her apartment, serendipitously helping her move her Christmas tree upstairs; she, in turn, takes him to the hospital one evening when he collapses due to untreated pneumonia. Neither one is chatty and they both appreciate the shared silence. They become caring, platonic friends--and in the ways they protect that relationship, it's a friendship each may be experiencing for the first time.

But Gentleman isn't sure what to do with them. As touching as Kate and Frank's relationship becomes, Gentleman's plot is furtively banal, pushing everything toward the inevitable: Kate finding out about Frank's work, which is helped along by police detective who is interested in Kate romantically and Frank professionally. Keaton the director wisely avoids fireworks and overacting during, maintaining his movie's subdued tone, but this revelation ends up feeling emotionally mute, leading into an ending that's less moving than evasive.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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