Film critic Mike D'Angelo mentions that Manglehorn is perhaps David
Gordon Green's least distinctive film, and from the moment I read that,
I had to agree with it. Manglehorn lacks the elements of grittiness and
naturalism that Green's previous features housed, most likely because
this particular effort wasn't written by him. Most of Green's
trademarks - standout cinematography by Tim Orr, elements of
impressionism, and exploration of a societal underbelly - are either
absent or significantly muted. Manglehorn takes on a more episodic
structure than the distinctly natural personality Green often conveys,
and between a wide variety of intimate short films, a debut film like
George Washington, deviations like The Sitter and Your Highness, and
recent projects like Joe and this one, Green has proved he can defy
everything from conventions to expectations.
Our titular subject is played by Al Pacino, a veteran actor who, in
just his most recent performances in this film and Danny Collins, has
given way to a tender, more contemplative side to his decades of
character acting. He's A.J. Manglehorn here, a professional key-maker
who goes about his day locksmithing everything from cars to storefront
doors. One look at Manglehorn from an uninformed outsider and they see
a man who confidently goes about his day, his job, and his doings, not
thinking twice about anything and ostensibly trying to get his job done
as efficiently as possible. Yet, Manglehorn is hurting immensely, as we
can tell from sporadic voiceovers throughout the film.
Manglehorn fondly recalls the woman he loved and lost; his and her
circumstances are left mostly unclear. He speaks so fondly of her that
we get the feeling that when she left, everything around him crumbled.
He built his life, his personality, his mood, and his feelings around a
woman that he effectively made himself miserable to make sure she was
happy. Now that she's gone, all Manglehorn can do is proceed forward on
autopilot, incessantly caring for his cat and trying not to be fazed by
every day activities. His son Jacob (Chris Messina) and him have a
frigid relationship, his old friend Gary (Harmony Korine in a role that
fits him like a glove) keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times
to say the most insensitive thing, and the female bank teller (Holly
Hunter), who flirts with him on a consistent basis, doesn't even bring
him to a smile.
I identify so much with Manglehorn it's almost frightening; the days
where you seem to be on autopilot, the perfunctory interactions that
feel like monumental events in your own mind, and the persistent
feeling of emptiness and hunger for someone you cannot have are all
things that have burdened me this year. The strongest emotional empathy
one can have with Manglehorn will come if one has specifically tried to
cope with loneliness, the deprivation of someone that makes them happy,
and the inability to solely live with one's self.
However, as a film, Manglehorn really shows what Pacino is capable of
in his current state. At seventy-five, Pacino wears his
straight-forward mug and his slicked back, gray hair with a sense of
confidence, expressing contemplation and the weariness of life
experience in every facial expression. This is a seasoned actor at work
here and, much like in Danny Collins, Pacino's character is likable
here because we immediately grasp the sense of what his character
Writer Paul Logan captures Manglehorn's story in an episodic fashion,
one that gives each character his or her respective dues but ultimately
circumvents to show how Manglehorn himself feels with every reaction.
He's a vulnerable character, one that can have an unpredictable
reaction to any situation and somebody who, after meeting the woman he
truly loved, goes through each and every day with a lot of pain. On
this basis alone, he's a character fit for a movie.
David Gordon Green's last film, Joe, was another big winner in my book,
capturing the humid south to a tee and showing a fragile but
unmistakable bond between a workaholic lumberjack and a young teenager.
Manglehorn, however, marches to the beat of a different drum. Shot with
the respectable sensitivity of Green is known for, yet muting his and
cinematographer Tim Orr's characteristics throughout, Manglehorn is a
film stripped of gimmicks and cheap ploys that helps get right to the
character here - a troubled and emotionally hurt man who is trying to
get through every day with his sanity still intact. Again, I can relate
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, and Chris Messina.
Directed by: David Gordon Green.