The Merry Gentleman
May 1, 2009
Yes, he will always be the first big-screen Bruce Wayne/Batman and Beetlejuice, but Michael Keaton's acting career is notable for a repeated willingness to explore the fine line between geniality and creepiness. His demeanor in films as varied as Night Shift, Clean and Sober and Pacific Heights plays along that bandwidth, to comic effect in the former film, subtle drama and/or chills in the latter pair. As well, he has never seemed to have much use for taking film projects strictly for the money or commercial viability. Vehicles like Herbie: Fully Loaded or White Noise (which was an unexpected, albeit modest, success) are few and far between. His latest project finds him following that throughline while still finding ways to surprise: in this instance, by sitting in the director's chair for the first time.
The Merry Gentleman, which played at Sundance earlier this year, looks to combine dark humor with a whiff of holiday cheer and a dash of unconventional romance. Aside from helming, Keaton has a leading role as a hitman who comes to the aid during the Christmas season of a woman on the run from an abusive relationship. Their meet cute is, I think, a first: He comes across her buried underneath the Christmas tree she was attempting to lug home. Later, she reciprocates by getting him to the hospital when he falls ill with pneumonia and baking him cookies. The past comes calling (as it is wont to do) for them both and they must deal with their demons head-on.
It is with great delight I note that the woman in question is played by Kelly Macdonald. Since leaving an indelible impression on many a moviegoer as Diane in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting, she has struck out a career as varied and intriguing as Keaton's, again with very little use for balancing small films with would-be superblockbusters. Let it be said here first: someday she will win an Academy Award. She was the heart of Robert Altman's murder mystery/class study Gosford Park and the unsung acting hero of No Country for Old Men. Many unfamiliar with her up to that point were surprised to learn that her Texas accent was pure acting. In The Merry Gentleman, she gets to keep her native Scottish brogue, which seems fitting for her character, who appears defiantly good-natured and optimistic in spite of her life.
This will be the first time that screenwriter Tom Lazzeretti's material has been shaped by someone other than himself. The story does seem to be in line with his previous works, all stories of an unlikely couple meeting and finding commonalities while secrets from their past threaten to bubble up. If Keaton walks the fine line between ingratiatingly quirky and offputtingly oddball with the material, The Merry Gentleman could be a pleasantly twisty diversion. (Brett Beach/BOP)