LOG: The Merry Gentleman

If Die Hard is a Christmas movie (a claim which I now reluctantly accept,) then The Merry Gentleman is as well. But that's not all it is. It's also a romance, a cop movie, and a pretty damned good Chicago movie, too. And it's got Micheal Keaton! 'Nuff said?

The easy gravitas and charm of Micheal Keaton simply cannot be overstated. He is a five star actor, and although his widow's peak has slowly inched back into a kind of Mohawk over the past few years, his panache remains as fresh and fun as ever, even when he is saddled (as here) by a role which in and of itself demands that his performance be almost wooden. It's a joy to watch and listen to him. He's one of the best.

The Merry Gentleman also has the distinction of being Keaton's directorial debut, and as such, it's a pretty sound success, with a few minor caveats. It's hard to say if Keaton deliberately limited his screen time as some sort of ill-advised, self-deprecating directorial choice or if it was simply a symptom of the script, but I wanted more of him in this film. Also, Keaton executes a couple of bafflingly strange camera movements and scene progressions. But certainly no one could accuse him of not taking chances, and indeed a lot of the flourishes he goes with work quite nicely. Watching Keaton in the few films in which he has appeared in the last five or so years, a big part of me wishes that he would just reach back, one more time, and let loose to become again the bonafide movie star he once was. His sparse appearances are unbecoming of his massive talent. But I have resolved to take what I can get.

I can sympathize with some of the review judgments of this film as too sappy, too somber. It certainly can be both, in spots. Though it does fall prey to a few of the more annoying indie-flick trends of the moment (minor spoiler alert: the "thoughtfully ambiguous loose-string ending" is employed here once again, maddeningly.) But it's hard to get too upset at this film, which has quite a lot going for it. To it's credit, it never prods for emotions it doesn't earn. And anyway, it's a lousy target to pick to bemoan the ever-present tide of indie flicks where no one ever smiles (I could think of a few far better choices.) The film redeems itself very well with its unstylized, believable and interesting portraits. Especially interesting is newcomer Tom Bastounes, who plays his very juicy part (as a cop involved in the investigation of a murder) like a young Joe Mantegna. Kelly MacDonald too does a fine job with her lovably distant Scottish emigre, alone and vulnerable in the big city.

Very worthy of a watch, The Merry Gentleman should transition especially well to the small screen, where the (admittedly) gloomy tone will feel a little less claustrophobic. See it for Keaton. There is no better reason. All the rest is icing.