Film

This 'Gentleman' is More Melancholy than 'Merry'


The Merry Gentleman

Director: Michael Keaton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald,Tom Bastounes, Darlene Hunt
Rated: R
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-05-01 (General release)
UK date: 2009-05-01 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Michael Keaton has one of the most unusual career arcs ever. He began as a wild man stand-up, the kind of mirth maniac that typically lands a smalltime movie deal. He parlayed film success in such comedies as Night Shift and Beetlejuice. But when Tim Burton pegged him to play the Caped Crusader in his reboot of Batman, his trajectory took a path that proved both profitable and yet perplexing. There were successes (Much Ado About Nothing, The Paper) and failures (Jack Frost, where he was reduced to playing a rock star turned into a snowman - no seriously), critical acclaim (Jackie Brown) and commercial paydays (Pixar's Cars). But nothing could have prepared him for the professional happenstance of The Merry Gentleman. Keaton originally signed on as an actor. Fate put him into the role of filmmaker as well - and believe it or not, he succeeds.

Escaping her abusive husband, young Irish girl Kate Frazier picks up and moves to Chicago. There she hopes to start a new life, free of her painful past. One night, she witnesses a man on the top of a nearby building. She's afraid he wants to jump, and her scream shakes him back into reality. Turns out, the individual was a professional assassin who indeed was contemplating suicide. But when haberdasher turned hitman Frank Logan meets Kate, he is instantly smitten. They soon start seeing a lot of each other. This makes the police suspicious, especially recently divorced ex-alcoholic Det. Dave Murcheson. He too feels affection for Kate, but wonders why this new man has entered into her life. Things grow even more complicated when Kate's hubby tracks her down. Claiming to be "reborn", he wants his wife back.

Set up like a short story in both tone and approach, The Merry Gentleman is not out to make some grand cinematic statement. Though Keaton shows amazing vision as a first time director, this is not crime as some manner of glorified Greek tragedy or uber-cool familial opera. Instead, we are dealing with the lives of small timers, people who don't really matter much in the grand scheme of things. Kate is an abused woman who can't get the safety and security she needs from the system. Taking matters into her own hands, all she wants to do is escape. It's something similar for Frank. Though we are never quite sure why he kills people as a sidelight (or if the tailoring business is merely a front for his felonious activities), he is clearly at the end of his rope as well. There are several silent sequences where the agony on Keaton's face registers the world of pain he is in as well.

But it's Det. Murcheson that ties this all together, the link between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and romantic fantasy. Even though he carries his own oversized baggage into the fray, we can see him picking apart Kate's convoluted story about how she got her ever--present black eye. And while he barely knows Frank, he can sense something is amiss with both the mystery man's demeanor and determination about the girl. As a kind of creepy three-way without any of the carnal considerations, The Merry Gentleman asks us to size up the potential relationships and choose up partners. Would Kate really be better off with a killer than some cop who can't seem to control his gut instinct, especially when the hired gun seems, outside of his amoral behavior, like a genuinely lovely and needy man. It's these avenues that Keaton must maneuver through and around, and he does so majestically.

Because he himself is an actor and starring in the film, you'd except The Merry Gentleman to be purely character driven, and for the most part, that's true. Keaton does give his actors room to stretch and expand, and costars Kelly Macdonald and Tom Bastounes take full advantage of the space. This is especially true of our leading lady. She turns Kate into such a mousy mess, so frail and shy that she seems barely present, that the sudden spirit she shows when Frank is around is mesmerizing. Their time together is both bittersweet and biting, an inevitable confrontation always a single conversation away. But Keaton never lets things grow maudlin or clichéd. We know Kate will eventually find out about Frank. The good thing about The Merry Gentleman is that their reaction is much more important than the implied dramatic of such a scene.

Some may be put off by Keaton's underplayed approach. This is a movie that unfolds in quiet, reflective moments, like a flower that's petals are slowly opening and revealing. There is a lack of action, though the film still finds a way to provide some disturbing killings along the way. There is a rather inconsistent tone here, yet one imagines if original director (and screenwriter) Ron Lazzeretti had been able to see the project through, he would have handled the material differently. Keaton is playing it safe here, letting the realities play out in ways that stay true without completely mimicking the facts. We know that hitmen don't act this way, that this kind of abused woman is more of a symbol than a solid individual, and that Det. Murcheson is pushing his advantage in ways that would compromise any case. But because The Merry Gentleman embraces those truisms, the entire project sparkles.

Keaton clearly has a future behind the lens, should destiny push him in such a direction. Indeed, it would be interesting to see what he does with a slightly broader canvas and more subtexts to consider. His eye is remarkable, keen without every being obvious or flashy. And his way with actors is, as stated before, exceptional. Still, The Merry Gentleman is not destined to be some massive mainstream hit. Instead, it's a slight indie effort that offers innumerable charms without totally testing your patience. In a world where such novice entries would be embraced instead of marginalized, this movie would be indicative of good things to come for all involved. Sadly, something like The Merry Gentleman may simply remain an anomaly - a case where the stars all lined up right, and then glowed brightly instead of simply fading away.

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Kehr was one of the best long-form essay writers people read for clear and sometimes brutally honest indictments of film.

It's perhaps too trite and rash to conclude that the age of good, cogent film criticism is over. They still exist out there, always at print publications such as The New Yorker and at major newspapers like The New York Times. An argument can be made that the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert became a better writer when he departed from cinema and covered literature, book collecting, or even the simplest pleasures of life. If we look at the film criticism of James Agee from the '40s, or even the short but relevant stint of novelist and short story writer Graham Greene as a film critic, we come to understand that the greatest writing about film went beyond the spectrum of what they saw on the screen.
Keep reading... Show less
8

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image