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A woman leaves an abusive relationship to begin a new life in a new city, where she forms an unlikely and ironic relationship with a suicidal hit man (unbeknownst to her). Enter a worn, alcoholic detective to form the third party in a very unusual triangle as this story begins to unfold. Written by
Patience is a virtue and this film has virtues aplenty
I have a confession: I adore Kelly Macdonald's Scottish accent. It makes me go all weak in the knees, sends my heart aflutter.
She is the reason I went to see "The Merry Gentleman." I like Michael Keaton, too, and thought his performance in "Game 6" (2005) was exceptionally good. I wasn't too sure how good a director he would be, but after watching "The Merry Gentleman," I can safely say that Keaton is a very good filmmaker.
The story of "The Merry Gentleman" could very well point to all the trappings of a formula: An abused woman inadvertently sees a hit man and then he befriends her with obvious intent.
Given filmmakers' penchant these days to turn this sort of subject matter into yet another Tarantino or Guy Ritchie clone, the calmness with which "The Merry Gentleman" unfolds comes as a wonderful surprise.
I realize that film-goers who want to see every hit man movie turned into another fast-talking Tarantino imitation might be sorely disappointed or even bored by "The Merry Gentleman." This film takes its time. It's in no hurry to get where it's going and it doesn't pander to its audience with needless bloodshed, non sequitur riffs or slam-bang car chases. This film might be about a hit man and the witness, but it is not an action film. This really is a splendid character study, paced deliberately so that we would get to know, understand, appreciate and grow to love these people.
This film relies on its two main characters, Frank (Keaton) and Kate (Macdonald), to carry the film. And these two fine actors do not disappoint. Their scenes together are strikingly powerful, even when they say little. And there are many such moments in this film. Even their meet-cute, which could very well have turned into a typically corny moment, is handled with grace, charm and just enough humor to make you smile.
This is a drama about human connections, more than anything else. An unconventional love story as Frank and Kate, a depressed professional killer and the mousy abused woman, slowly work their way through each other lives, through the uncomfortable moments, trying to steal moments they can share.
Keaton could very easily have played Frank for a chuckle or two, given him a frenetic edge, as he often has in films. Instead, he plays him low-key. Perhaps too low-key, some could argue, but that is what I loved about his character. He really is more than a man struggling with the morality of what he does; he's a man struggling with life and all its vagaries. What he does for a living seems almost inconsequential to his struggles. Keaton finds the fine edges to his character and realizes there's more to reveal in what Frank doesn't say than in what he does. There's nothing false about Frank's weariness or sadness. This is truly a finely-tuned and subtle performance by Keaton - one of his very best.
Macdonald is completely charming as Kate. Her glorious accent aside, she brings a delightful sweetness to her role. This is a real woman with genuine problems and we understand Frank's desire - and even need
to take care of her. She has suffered much and it all seems so unfair
that such a creature would be in such pain. Macdonald is marvelous. She has always been a remarkably astute actress capable of immediately drawing the audience to her. Just watch her in "The Girl in the Cafe" (2005) and you will promptly fall in love with her. She also gave the severely under-praised performance in "No Country For Old Men" (2007). This is yet another wonderful performance from a terribly under-appreciated actress. Macdonald never disappoints.
There are two fine supporting performances - from Bobby Cannavale as Kate's husband, and Tom Bastounes, as a cop investigating Frank's killings and also harboring a crush on Kate. Cannavale's outburst seems a bit noisy for a film this solemn, but he makes it work. And Bastounes, as a not-too-tidy cop, is just priceless. His dinner scenes with Kate contain terrific bits of acting.
At a time when "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Terminator Salvation," "Public Enemies" and other Hollywood films gain all the attention, it is too bad that a film such as "The Merry Gentleman" seemingly just gets lost in the shuffle.
This is a gem of a film. It is not for anyone seeking an adrenaline rush. But is for those seeking a tender, sweet, deeply moving, at times startling film about deeply damaged people and their attempts to find some sort of solace, happiness and meaning in this life. "The Merry Gentleman" is a richly rewarding experience for those who appreciate good movies.
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