At the heart of Barney’s Version is a powerful performance from Paul Giamatti, as an ageing curmudgeon looking back over his past. He blunders his way through two marriages—to a tortured artist (Rachelle Lefevre) and a Jewish socialite (Minnie Driver)—and has no direction until he meets the beautiful Miriam (Rosmund Pike). Only his relationships with his father (Dustin Hoffman) and best friend (Scott Speedman) are constant, but even these are not straightforward.
Hit or miss?
In a way, Michael Keaton shares similar traits with Robin Williams and Jack Nicholson – although to be sure, he’s not as straightjacketed by his own persona as the latter. The point being, that all three actors have an extrovert/introvert switch (see Beetlejuice), and when playing the introvert, there’s always the possibility that the fire within can be tapped at any time. This works to Keaton’s advantage in The Merry Gentleman, in which he remains very much muted and controlled – both on and off screen. For this is also his first directorial effort.
Keaton plays Frank, a hired gun of few words, and for all intents a blank slate, on which the audience can imprint their own history. Frank forms a bond with Kate (Kelly MacDonald), a similarly closed-down soul, who is escaping her own past – this being established via a dialogue-free prologue.
It’s a low-key film, sustained primarily through MacDonald’s sweet, earnest performance and Keaton’s stillness. Although it must be said, the hit-man with a heart isn’t the most original conceit. With recurrent periods of pensive silence from the Keaton camp, there’s a door open to ambiguity within the piece, but it doesn’t really lead to any gut-wrenching epiphany or indeed any rousing moments to speak of. Slight it may be, but that’s a complimentary aspect to a film, which seems for all intents satisfied with its own modest ambition. 3 stars
Small offerings include the trailer, plus a fifteen-minute making of, which provides a brief history of the project, but mostly just b-roll footage. 2 stars
Stars Michael Keaton, Kelly MacDonald
Director Michael Keaton
Distributor Universal Pictures
Released April 5
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