2 May 2009 | amarcordforever
The Merry Gentleman: A Slice of Yellow Tail Sashimi
In a recent trend, the film going public has favored a cinematic experience of what I like to call "Hand it Overs". These phenomena can be as creative as the "big reveal" at the end of early M. Night Shymalan films, or as effortless in reality as passing the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. They give the majority of today's audiences exactly what they want, instant gratification. Imagine if we never saw Malcom Crowe's real fate completely unfold in "The Sixth Sense" or Elija Prince's true self-revealed in "Unbreakable". How would this change our perception and enjoyment of them? The Merry Gentleman marks Michael Keatons Directorial debut by chance due to the sudden illness of screenwriter Ron Lazzeretti who was originally slated to Direct. Keaton also stars as Frank Logan, a depressed hit man, alongside Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald) a woman who has just escaped from an abusive relationship. As the plot unfolds, Frank and Kate end up mysteriously crossing paths, which spawns an unconventional, often uncomfortable and strained romance between these two mixed up individuals from different worlds.
Keaton's first shot at direction does everything but fall into a "Hand It Over". His pacing is agonizingly slow, yet unbelievably careful. Discerning and seasoned viewers will appreciate his intricate placement and organization of scenes for the greater purpose, if not during the film then certainly after the credits roll. Others will become fed up with his unconventional style a third of the way through, and if they haven't walked out of the theater before the final scene may let out a strained, "That's It?" and huff out the door unsatisfied. For me it took a good fifteen minutes after the picture ended before everything clicked and I was blindsided by the sheer brilliance of what I had seen; deep themes rich in symbolism of religion and redemption and the overall feeling that Keaton felt no responsibility as an artist to spell it out for us.
Performances all around play it safe but are always believable and gratifying to watch. As a virtual no name, Macdonald holds her own quite well, even while sporting an Irish accent that can sometimes border on a tad annoying and contrived. In front of the camera, Keaton never fails to please and continues to frustrate me when I realize that he has been almost entirely absent from view since the mid nineties. Supporting cast gets the job done and Bobby Cannavale delivers a poignant, gripping and short-lived scene stealing performance as Kate's boyfriend.
The question that will remain on many of our minds is, "what exactly is the fine line between complete obscurity and masterpiece, and did Keaton cross it?" That's for each of us to decide individually, but it is in the opinion of this reviewer that said line is imaginary. As an art form, film should have no boundaries, regardless of how many cookie cutter, "How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days" burnt offerings Hollywood Studios continuously try to force down our throats. After all is said and done, it does feel good to sink your teeth into a double quarter pounder, but on occasion, Yellow Tail Sashima can prove to be extremely rewarding. After all, grandma always said try everything once.