Monday, April 20, 2009

The Merry Gentleman

This Gent starts with a silent bang. Black clad Frank Logan (Michael Keaton) executes an unsuspecting victim in a hit for hire. Logan may work in a tailor shop, but with his grizzled silence, broken mostly by hacking coughs, he's no suave Man from UNCLE. The scene shifts to Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald), who stews and cries following a beating from her husband Michael (a cop played by Bobby Cannavale in a small but significant role), then flees to Chicago, where covering her trail means having no past. Logan, now sniping from a rooftop, spots Kate in her new office through his telescopic site, then shifts his focus to knock off his intended victim. After the kill, Logan steps to the ledge of his rooftop with uncertain intent, attracting the attention of Kate as she exits her office. Kate screams to disrupt what she views as an impending suicide, surprising Logan, who falls back onto the roof as his hat sails to the ground. Elapsed time - approximately ten minutes. Total words of dialog - less than 200.

The police are summoned and we meet Dave Murcheson (Tom Bastounes), a chubby but handsome, divorced, chain-smoking alcoholic who likes Kate and is worried she won't like him back. The pace slows slightly and the characters begin to speak, albeit occasionally and furtively. Kate suffers through the holiday party at her new office, stopping to buy a Christmas tree as she cabs home. Kate tries to muscle the tree into her apartment, losing a farcical wrestling match as she's pinned on her own stoop. A mysterious stranger comes to the rescue, but when the camera moves from black shoe to black slacks to black coat to ...Mr. Logan, I presume. Coincidence? OK, The Gent is noir, not neo-neo but it is moving along nicely with signs of suspense and humor. Four characters introduced and propelled into a pattern that insures they will meet again, dire consequences to follow.

Suddenly the film shifts into very low gear. That would be very low as in neutral. The story inches forward almost imperceptibly as the characters reveal themselves with small, usually subtle gestures. The mood turns reflective, literally. Key scenes include mirrored reflections of speaking characters, lights bouncing off water in one dark scene after another. Logan, Dave and Diane (Darlene Hunt) a friend from the office, all want to get to know Kate, who's having little of it. Finally Michael reappears and things start moving, at a measured but discernible pace, to a very non-Hollywood resolution.

This is Keaton's first film as a director and it has a lot to offer. The characters are nuanced and usually interesting, thanks to solid, sometimes engaging work by the entire cast, particularly Macdonald. Keaton's low key performance makes a tough sell - the hit man with no life but a soft spot for Kate - credible. As always, As Good As News appreciates humor and it's scattered throughout this film. Kate's wit appears several times. Ms Hunt and Guy Van Swearingen, as Dave's partner, contribute strong performances in character roles that carry much of the comic load.

Despite the film's assets, the pace on that long march after the fast start and before the ambiguous finish was so slow that As Good As News dropped by the wayside. Fans of indie character studies with a taste for suspense may want to rent The Merry Gentleman, but it is not for most audiences.

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