The Merry Gentleman
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre
Review by: Larry Thomas
If you’re a filmgoer who feels lost amid the hype and hustle of all the big summer movies, and crave something more introspective and character driven, then it’s time for you to head to the theatre.
The Merry Gentleman, despite the title, is not a comedy, but it is a nice slice of humanity. The plot is fairly simple: battered wife escapes from her abusive husband and starts a new life in Chicago. She befriends a man from a chance encounter, not realizing he is a suicidal hit man. And as you might expect, the bad guy husband finds her. Yes, there are some unanswered questions about what’s going on, indicating that a few scenes were lost in the editing process. And yes, virtually nothing happens that you won’t be able to deduce in advance. But the performances are what make the film come alive, with characters you care about.
Set during the period between pre-Christmas and post-Valentine’s Day, which, for lonely people, are the loneliest holidays on the calendar, The Merry Gentleman was accidentally directed by Michael Keaton, who had been hired to star as Frank, the hit man. The original director fell ill, and Keaton stepped in to direct his first film. Good move for us all, as he does a wonderful job, with an eye for camera placement and movement, the use of wide screen framing, and keeping things interesting. As with Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone, here’s hoping Keaton finds time to do more directing in the future. His Frank is a quiet person who speaks little and trusts no one. His path crosses with Katie, wonderfully played by Kelly MacDonald. The Scottish actress who debuted in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, and was so good in the Coen Brothers No Country for Old Men, is radiant playing the Irish Katie with a winsome smile and lilting accent. To use a tired cliché, you can feel her pain. She should be able to find bigger and better roles, which will be a big plus for those of us who enjoy quality performers. Character actor Bobby Cannavale plays the abusive husband, and his one major scene is completely electric.
Since this is a low-budget production, the rest of the cast is comprised of new faces, and that’s a good thing. Especially noteworthy are Tom Bastounias as the Chicago cop who becomes smitten with Katie, and Darlene Hunt as Katie’s co-worker Diane.
As with any good film, the unseen character is an excellent background score. British composer Ed Shearmur, who has been working a lot lately with titles such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and the two Charlie's Angels films among his credits, highlights this tale with a low-key, almost minimalist score that is a pleasure to hear.
This is not a big, loud action film. It requires your investment of time and interest. Don’t go expecting anything monumental and flawless and you should enjoy The Merry Gentleman. It’s one of the most pleasant movie surprises I’ve had in quite some time.