The Merry Gentleman
There’s generally only one type of Christmas film, or at the very least, a very identifiable type of film that always seems to get a festive release, year after year. You know the sort of thing we mean – it’s generally aimed more towards the kids (and the merchandising kids just love to pester their folks with), more comedy than drama. Inevitably it’s about saving Christmas, or learning that Christmas is all about family, or putting some optimistic, often hackneyed spin on the season.
Bat in Black
And yet for those of you not relishing the prospect of queuing up for a Disneyfied, CGI Christmas Carol or some cockle-warming Richard Curtis-flavoured extravaganza (stand up and take your bow, Nativity!), there’s a quite superlative Christmas treat out there. It comes, perhaps surprisingly, as the directing debut of Michael “Batman/Beetlejuice/Mr. Mom” Keaton, who also features as the film’s main lead, Frank Logan. Opposite him is the rather gorgeous Trainspotting and No Country For Old Men star Kelly Macdonald as Kate, a troubled woman fleeing to Chicago from her abusive husband.
Naturally, the two leads come together. But here’s where The Merry Gentleman really comes into its own. Keaton’s taciturn, lonely Logan is a hit-man, and a suicidal one at that. After setting up his sniper rifle on a rooftop and taking his shot (in a scene that neither glamourises or trivialises the fact that a life has just been taken), Logan prepares to jump to his death… but not before he spots Macdonald’s Kate standing in the street below him.
Let Nothing You Dismay
What follows is a complex, slow-moving and beautiful story about two damaged people trying to patch the emotional tears in each others’ lives. Both Keaton and Macdonald are stunning in their roles, and extra kudos has to go to Keaton for his understated and perfectly-pitched direction. It’s a testament to his skill that, as the drama unfolds, you’re always left feeling slightly uncertain as to where the film is going. You’re constantly hankering to know what’s next, and when the end comes, it’s highly satisfying.
In a season of too much sugar in our diets – whether that’s at home or with endless reams of chirpy festive entertainment – it’s refreshing to have something like The Merry Gentleman that can cut through the treacle without seeming curmudgeonly or self-indulgent. If you’re after something more intelligent than stories of talking puppies saving Santa with a magic icicle, or with more interesting characters than some grating comedy elf, than The Merry Gentleman is warming as a whisky mac, and just as satisfying.