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The Merry Gentleman: Somber drama works 

If there's one fault to be found with the Coen Brothers' superb Oscar winner No Country for Old Men, it's that there simply aren't enough scenes featuring Kelly Macdonald, the wee Scottish lass who's previously appeared in such diverse works as Trainspotting, Gosford Park and Finding Neverland. Her No Country role as Josh Brolin's sympathetic wife is small but pivotal; to catch her in a part that's both large and pivotal, check out The Merry Gentleman, a low-simmer drama that marks Michael Keaton's directorial debut.

In addition to directing, the former Batman stars as Frank Logan, a despondent hit man. Yet the film belongs completely to Macdonald, who wields the largest role; she plays Kate Frazier, who escapes an abusive relationship and starts again in a place where nobody knows her. But the fragile, soft-spoken Kate is the sort of vulnerable woman who seems to draw the attention of all sorts of men, both good and bad. Among those she attracts are an overweight, alcoholic cop (Tom Bastounes) and the bullying ex (Bobby Cannavale) who's determined to bring her home. Yet her most unusual relationship is the one she shares with Logan, a stone-cold killer who nevertheless softens whenever he's in her presence.

Working from a script by Ron Lazzeretti, Keaton has managed to fashion a nicely modulated film that overcomes any hesitancy one might have about yet another movie centering on low-life assassins. Crucially, the picture isn't really about Logan, whose screen time is even less than that of Bastounes' well-meaning cop; instead, its primary focus is on Kate and how she works hard to make her life an acceptable one. Macdonald's performance is one of understated beauty, and the film's lucky to have her on board.

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