If you heard that the frequently manic actor Michael Keaton had directed his first movie, “low-key minimalism” might not be the first expectation to spring to mind. We’re talking about “Beetlejuice” here.
Ah, but remember Keaton’s toned-down intensity in his “Batman” outings, and you begin to sense his approach to “The Merry Gentleman.” This isn’t the film’s only surprise; the other is how really good it is.
Keaton also plays the lead role: Frank Logan, a hit man who works in a tailor shop as cover.
Why does he kill people? What does he do with his money? Who is this guy? Don’t expect the answers, because the movie isn’t interested in exploring those particular questions. (See “minimalism” reference, above.)
While on a job, Logan sees (and is seen by, sort of) a young woman named Kate (Kelly Macdonald). She’s recently come to the city to escape an abusive husband (Bobby Canavale).
Logan enters her life. Does he plan to kill her? We don’t know. Also entering the scene: Two police detectives, one of whom (Tom Bastounes) would kind of like to ask Kate on a date. Bastounes, who’s marvelous in the understated role, is also one of the film’s producers.
His partner is played by Guy Van Swearingen, and it is typical of this movie’s even-handed style that this actor, a pretty obscure performer, is given some of the film’s best lines (and he nails them).
The directing style Keaton applies here is calm, stately and alive to changing weather and mood. Like his character, it doesn’t say much out loud, but you sure can tell a lot by looking at it.
Macdonald (speaking in her natural Scottish accent, a running joke for the way it makes men swoon) is a strong, silent presence herself. Although Ron Lazzeretti’s script takes place in a traditionally male milieu, the film actually has some things to say about the inept ways the men have of treating her. Maybe the fact that they all call this grown woman a “girl” is a clue.
“The Merry Gentleman” fell to Keaton to direct when Lazzeretti suffered a ruptured appendix shortly before shooting was to begin. Given the precise, insightful nature of the dialogue, here’s hoping Mr. Lazzeretti stays healthy for awhile.
“The Merry Gentleman”
A fine minimalist film that manages to breathe new life into the well-worn tale of a hit man (Michael Keaton) getting to know a witness (Kelly Macdonald). Keaton also directed Ron Lazzeretti’s impeccable script, and does a nice job of drawing out the character quirks within the quiet scenario.
Rated: R is for violence, language