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The Merry Gentleman

Spare drama of a woman and the three flawed men who want her

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Film's current fascination with sympathetic hitmen is likely due to the dramatic noodling that comes with a character who, as befits his profession, takes a life as nonchalantly as the rest of us take a business meeting. Yet more often that not, filmmakers decide the inherent contradiction is enough, and never bother to unveil the character in any other deeper or more interesting ways. That's the case in this small-scale drama, directed by Michael Keaton, that pairs a winsome woman named Katie (Kelly MacDonald) with a taciturn, but kindly hitman named Frank (Keaton). Katie, who has fled an abusive marriage, also attracts the attentions of a pushy cop, and, of course, lurking somewhere is her husband. This all plays out at a very mannered pace -- and at Christmas time, which is another movie cheat for conveying the loneliness that draws these unlikely souls together. Katie buys a tree alone and Frank spends the holiday in the hospital, while fairy lights twinkle around the edge of the frame. The spare exposition also makes it difficult to sort out some of the plot points (why is Frank a killer and a tailor?). But ultimately it's the ordinary Katie (in a fine performance by MacDonald), as the locus around whom the bad men in this story orbit, who is more fascinating than the guy with the killer job. Starts Fri., June 19. Squirrel Hill.

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