Monday, May 4, 2009

Staving Off Death

Does anyone even make these movies any more? Those little dramas? Apparently Michael Keaton does. Keaton, who is an under-appreciated actor and now an under-appreciated director. The Merry Gentleman could be a grayer (but more lightweight) James Gray (in palette, in feeling), or maybe a crime film by Shinji Aoyama, with the sort of indefinite ending that marked many Japanese films from the early 2000s. This careful movie, all Brooksian drama, every shot drawing out its beginning and end, every take a deliberation on the dialogue. There is something subtly subversive about filling a Cinemascope frame with people so completely ordinary--a little frumpy, neither attractive nor well-spoken, who sound heavy-handed when they try to say what they think is important and spend most of the time in winding, half-mumbled conversations that seem to be protracting something, as if talk is just a way to stave off death, which comes quickly and uncruelly.

There's the Glaswegian who seems to attract ill-fitting men: two cops and a killer. One her husband, one a suitor, and the third completely mysterious in his intentions. There are people who aren't bad but never do good and people who may very well be bad but are full of the promise of good deeds; actually, there's no real difference between the two. I think of the violent husband, whose profession of newfound faith sounds so hollow, and the inarticulate (or poorly self-articulating) characters, sometimes just humiliating to watch, whose silences and pauses become so heavy that this movie ("an actor's film," they'll say) seems like an attack on the idea of conversation. Or maybe conversion.

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