Digging back in to my viewing archives from 2009 I thought I'd share some thoughts on the quite lovely directorial debut from Michael Keaton, The Merry Gentleman.
Billed as a crime thriller but in reality this is a sort of love story about Frank, a suicidal hitman, Kate, an unknowing witness to one of his hits and Dave, the cop investigating it.
The Merry Gentleman is a neo-noir that feel remarkably similar to the work of Melville, calling to mind most prominently Alain Delon in Le Samourai. The pace is incredibly slow with the focus on the feelings and interactions of these lost souls rather than action and fast talking like you might find in a sub par Tarantino clone. Here you will find no car chase, no gun fight, no explosions; instead we are treated to suspense and tension built around the secrets and lies these characters tell each other.
The subtle yet compelling performance of Keaton in any other movie would surely have garnered award attention but somehow got overlooked, probably due to the low key nature of the movie. He hardly says anything, he lets his face and his gestures do the talking for him as a character who is struggling to find reasons to live. But outdoing him is the fabulous Kelly MacDonald, who by now can surely play the permanently optimistic yet troubled/damaged young woman with her eyes shut, yet she always seems to put that something extra in to it. It's a good thing too as she has to carry the majority of the film's dialogue as the centre of attention for three men all looking to her as some kind of angel of mercy or forgiveness ready to wipe out all of their past transgressions and usher them in to a good, wholesome, happy life. It was quite a strong year for female actors but when Mo'Nique and Sandra Bullock are winning awards you have to wonder why a movie needs to have a big financial backing for a performance as good as Kelly MacDonald's in a film as wonderful as this can just go completely ignored.
I am really quite astounded by the creative eye of Keaton. There is the visual beauty crafted by Keaton and his cinematographer Chris Seager which will leave you breathless combining with the simple yet essential nature of the relationships that develop to create something both poetic and magical, powerful and moving. There's so much beauty contained within these 100 minutes that I was left silent for a long time afterwards. I could tell you about the way Keaton manages to get right to the soul of his character by his choice of where to place a camera as a director and what words not to say as an actor but then if I went in to too much detail it might spoil the wonderful surprise that this movie is. Be prepared to be touched by a ghost and his angel.
Michel Keaton is a fine actor and based on this movie he has all the makings of a fine director too. I very much hope he gets another shot at directing a feature.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one if you've been lucky enough to see it. Share some blah below.