I’ve made it no secret that I am a massive fan of Michael Keaton. I find him to be one of the more underrated actors of all time, and mostly because he went from a massive star in the 1980s and 1990s to more of a character actor. That is the beauty in his career though – the obligations of being a big star limits an actor, and his choice to go from superstar to more of an independent performer allows one to explore and experiment with different types of films. Michael Keaton tried something very interesting a few years ago – directing, joining the ranks of the select few actors who step behind the camera as well. The result was an underrated little masterpiece, strangely titled The Merry Gentleman.
In the film, Keaton plays Frank Logan, a professional hitman going through an existential crisis. He stumbles upon Kate (the always wonderful and equally underrated Kelly Macdonald), a young naive Scottish woman who is trying to escape her past, which includes an abusive husband. They are an odd couple for sure, and the one flaw the film has is that it doesn’t give too much to the Frank/Kate relationship – right up until the very end, they are friends, but they are still shy around each other and vaguely awkward, even though Kate views Frank as her protector, and Frank views Kate as the woman who could possibly help him stop his troublesome career.
The Merry Gentleman is an anomaly of a film – I am not entire sure what Keaton was going for when making this movie. It certainly feels a lot warmer than films with similar subject matter, but it just feels small – and that’s not a bad thing. It is an unconventional “boy meets girl” story, and one that feels suitably obscure, allowing us to be guessing about what happens in the film right up until the very end. The film doesn’t explain every detail – it doesn’t need to. It doesn’t worry about the audience needing to know every single part of the story – some parts are left mysterious and ambigious, much like the lead characters. The audience is allowed to step into the shoes of these two characters, and by not having the plot be tied up neatly, we can all use our own experiences and interpretations to guess how these characters end up – it is a bizarre but very interesting effect.
The film is a very special one – it is set at Christmas, but I wouldn’t call it a Christmas movie at all – Christmas is just used a backdrop to tell the story of these two lonely souls, and how they came to be friends by complete coincidence. A more conventional, mainstream film would have made the relationship romantic, and have the ending be a hugely melodramatic affair. Luckily, we are spared both of these, as The Merry Gentleman is really neither. It is, at the basic level, a story of friendship, and a story of finding another person, no matter what shape or form, and connecting with them, even if it is just for a fleeting moment. That is what makes The Merry Gentleman such an underrated film.
Michael Keaton does a great job pulling double duty on a film for the first time. He might not have made a perfect film, but The Merry Gentleman gains a lot of charm in those tiny little problems with it. Kelly Macdonald is a revelation as Kate, and Keaton himself is great as Frank. The Merry Gentleman is such a gem – it is never going to be widely seen (which is a shame) and it is a very different kind of film, especially in the tone of it, but it is still an interesting experience and a very pleasant surprise to stumble upon.