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With: Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald, Tom Bastounes, Darlene Hunt, Bobby Cannavale, Mike Bradecich, William Dick, Sean Fortunato, Greg Mills, Larry Neumann Jr., Guy Van Swearingen
Written by: Ron Lazzeretti
Directed by: Michael Keaton
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 110
Date: 01/18/2008

The Merry Gentleman (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Angel and the Hitman

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

To put it bluntly, Michael Keaton is one of my favorite actors. He's one of the few comedians able to tap into his own personal reservoirs of pain, the same reservoirs of pain that makes people become comedians in the first place. He could be brilliantly funny or truthfully tormented; sometimes he was just an interesting character actor. He has been criminally underused over the past decade or so, but now that wrong has been righted with Keaton's own directorial debut, The Merry Gentleman.

Keaton stars as Frank Logan, a quiet Chicago hitman who works a day job as a tailor (and who, consequently, is always dressed nicely). Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald) is new in town, having escaped her violent husband and started a new life. She charms everyone around her with her accent and her unassuming beauty, though she's just a bit shy and wounded. One night she emerges from work and -- unlike all the other Chicagoans around her -- glances up into the night sky to appreciate the falling snow. She glances a mysterious man standing on a ledge above her and screams, causing him to fall backwards to safety, rather than forwards to his death. Of course, it was Frank, who has just finished a rooftop job and doesn't seem too happy about it. Later, Kate bumps into Frank -- not knowing who he really is -- when a newly purchased Christmas tree falls on her, and they start an odd friendship. At the same time, an overweight, recovering alcoholic policeman (Tom Bastounes) -- the one who responded to Kate's call -- asks her out on a date. Unfortunately, Kate believes the "date" is about her case, and not a date.

The really fascinating thing about The Merry Gentleman is the way it makes Kate into a kind of spiritual savior of men without forsaking any of her character; she's a totally believable human being with certain qualities. She resists being "needed." Many men come onto her and flirt with her -- and some women express admiration and jealousy -- and she always resists. She won't take on anyone else's problems. Her spiritual assist relies on her not knowing about it. Frank is the only one who never directly asks her for anything or assumes anything. He just quietly turns up and listens and lends her a hand from time to time. When he comes down with pneumonia over Christmas, she spends the holiday in the hospital with him; he has no family and she doesn't want to see hers. Indeed, the movie never confirms any kind of sexual or romantic connection between them.

Things get even more interesting when Kate's abusive spouse Michael (Bobby Cannavale) turns up, having tracked her down. To atone for his sins, he has found religion and has become something of a fanatic, throwing in a "praise Jesus" every few minutes while he tells his story. His religion is the officially approved version, as opposed to Kate's vague, spiritual purity, and he comes across like a salivating creep. Worse, he's still asking Kate for a part of herself (which she, of course, refuses to grant to anyone who asks).

Some more plot kicks in at some point, and I guess it's not too hard to figure out what happens. Then Keaton attempts a kind of ambiguous ending that doesn't quite click and will probably leave more than one viewer scratching his or her head. But all in all, this is a remarkable debut, touching on physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual planes all at once. I hope it's the first step in sending Keaton back to the A-list.

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