An odd choice for Michael Keaton’s directorial debut, The Merry Gentleman is a laconic but admirably obtuse affair that contains the actor’s most restrained performance to date as Frank Logan, a suicidal hit man who strikes up an unlikely relationship with a wounded young woman (Kelly MacDonald).
I first caught The Merry Gentleman at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where the clearly nervous actor/director was on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Keaton said he was happy that the sold-out crowd seemed to stay with the story despite its slow pacing and that, based on audience reaction, he was going to make “a few cuts here and there.” Flash forward 18 months, and The Merry Gentleman arrives in theaters at 97 minutes, 13 minutes shorter than the Sundance version. While specific cuts aren't readily apparent, the changes seem to have slightly streamlined what I recall as pretty tedious going.
MacDonald is Kate Frazier, a Scottish immigrant who takes a job as a receptionist in Chicago after fleeing her abusive husband (Bobby Carnavale). She immediately draws interest from the men in her new surrounds, including that of Murcheson (Tom Bastounes), a self-described “divorced, alcoholic, chain-smoking” police detective investigating a shooting in Kate’s office building. (Guess who’s responsible for the hit?)
Still recovering from her previous relationship, the guarded Kate ultimately rejects everyone but Keaton’s Frank, a strange but sensitive presence who gives her the space she craves. They bond over the fact that neither cares to explore the other’s personal demons.
Keaton’s take on Ron Lazzeretti's character-driven script is weighed down with fuzzy religious symbolism — the title is taken from a Christmas carol — but the actor-turned-director’s visual sensibilities are impressive. Long, unedited sequences are shot with an elegant sense of composition. Better yet, Keaton’s camera has a lovely subject in MacDonald, who remains compelling despite the inert story she inhabits. Grade: C
Opens June 12. Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and find nearby bars and restaurants here.