Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Merry Gentleman

Sundance 2008
★ ★ ★

I love Michael Keaton and was looking forward to his first directing gig. And while I enjoyed this movie, I had to overlook a lot of reasons not to like it. Keaton stars as Frank Logan, lonely and depressed, a tailor by day and hit man by night. (That’s an example of stuff that kept gnawing at me. Would a hit man really spend his days hunched over a sewing machine just to keep a cover?) In the course of his night job, Frank has an unexpected meeting with Abby, played wonderfully by Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald (No Country for Old Men, Trainspotting), a woman who has come to the city to escape an abusive husband/cop. Their lives intersect and a relationship develops. They are soon joined by a recently divorced detective (Tom Bastounes), who is investigating one of Logan’s hits, and also develops a thing for Abby while he chases his own demons. And all this at Christmas, although it’s never quite clear why. In fact, there’s a lot in the movie that is unclear, and more than one moment that left me scratching my head.

The pace is sometimes awkward and slow, and even Keaton admitted after watching with an audience that it needed more editing. The script is funny at times, unbelievable at others, and never reveals much about the characters. (In fact, the laconic Logan remains a mystery throughout.) Despite this, I never got bored with A Merry Gentleman, and found myself caring for every character (my most important litmus test for movies), not realizing how Keaton managed to pull this off. And after some reflection, I also liked the ending, because it was consistent with the enigmatic nature of the entire movie. But not everyone will.

Sundance Moments: I’ve seen Michael Keaton at Sundance before and he is great with an audience. He mentioned that he was first approached to simply act in the movie, but when the planned director fell ill, he volunteered to step in. He talked about how much more exposed he felt as a director, comparing it to his skydiving experience, but with a 90-minute fall. On the bright side, he said that as a director he didn’t have to endure the many boring hours that actors spend in their trailers.

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