So this is Christmas
THE FOLLOWING recipe might lead you to think of a cheery Christmas concoction: Michael Keaton, an upbeat title, a yuletide theme. Maybe you’re thinking of Keaton’s last major role, Jack Frost? Think again.
The Merry Gentleman is a peculiar film, a relationship drama crossed with a lonely hitman movie. Keaton is Frank Logan, a solitary assassin contemplating suicide. Kelly Macdonald is Kate Frazier, a young woman who’s relocated after escaping an abusive marriage.
One evening, Kate sees Frank teetering on a ledge. Her scream startles him and he falls backwards onto the roof. Not long afterwards, they develop a quiet, tentative friendship. Meanwhile, podgy detective Dave Murchesen (Tom Bastounes), who has designs on Kate, is investigating a series of suspicious deaths.
The Merry Gentleman has a strange atmosphere akin to a song sung slightly off-key. It’s hard to resist a film that acknowledges the pain and loneliness of the Silly Season, and Keaton’s directorial debut certainly does that. Not one but three separate characters contemplate suicide, and the office Christmas party is painted as a sad collage of joyless dalliances and awkward jokes.
Keaton, while obviously not the draw he once was, has always been versatile, but The Merry Gentleman is his most restrained performance to date. It’s easy to see why the kinetic actor wanted to do something more subdued, but the characters played by Macdonald (brave, vulnerable) and Bastounes (tenacious, insecure) are much more rounded. Leon without the action, Grosse Pointe Blank without the comedy,
The Merry Gentleman will perplex as many as it will captivate. Its pace is deliberate and it’s not without its flaws (the subplot of the killings could have been clearer, for example). But with its calm, strange tone and its portrait of an oddball friendship, Keaton’s film is a curiously ingratiating Christmas present.
The hitman and her: Michael Keaton and Kelly Macdonald