When you get to Al Pacino’s station in life – and very few actors do – you can pretty much pick and choose which projects you work on. For the last decade or so Pacino has moved into a kind of semi-retirement, dialling back the amount of work he takes on, and while Manglehorn might seem an unlikely and inconspicuous choice of project, it is perhaps one that was on balance well made.
Pacino plays the eponymous Texan locksmith, a spinster who refuses to retire, never having moved on from the loss of his beloved Clara many years previously. Much of Manglehorn’s story is told in voiceover – narrating the letters that he still writes to her going over the events of his day – and the film focuses on four threads in that life, each working to illustrate the other three. Firstly there is his cat, off its food and thus due a visit to the vets. Then there is Gary (Harmony Korine), the fast-talking sleaze-ball who is Mangelhorn’s complete antithesis, but who he nevertheless tries to connect with to prove a point to his son, Jacob (Chris Messina), whose life has taken a contrasting path and who Manglehorn no longer feels any kinship with. Finally Holly Hunter plays Dawn, the lonely bank teller who might just be Manglehorn’s salvation.
The film takes a very structured approach to telling these stories, placing an obstacle in the path of each before eventually resolving them all one way or the other, and this is perhaps its biggest problem. There are moments when Paul Logan’s script feels a touch too deliberate, undermining the otherwise very naturalistic tone of David Gordon Green’s direction. On the other hand, the character of Manglehorn is treated in a much more rounded way than many filmmakers might have, still managing to engage with people – albeit on his own terms – when another film might have portrayed him as a complete loner. It is easy to get caught up in the life of a man who might on paper seem very off-putting, something that’s helped immeasurably by Pacino’s incomparable and considered performance.
If Manglehorn essentially comes over a little like one of the plot strands from Magnolia given an entire film to itself, then that feeling is exacerbated by the often ambient and at times transcendent score by David Wingo and Explosions of Light, and there are two moments of magic (one figurative, one literal) in the movie that elevate it beyond the simple character piece it might have been. This is a mostly successful, measured and elegiac experience, a kind of Frankie and Johnny two decades on that might have been outstanding, had it decided to concentrate just a little more on the Holly Hunter storyline.
Special Features: Short cast interview / Trailer
MANGLEHORN / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: DAVID GORDON GREEN / SCREENPLAY: PAUL LOGAN / STARRING: AL PACINO, HOLLY HUNTER, HARMONY KORINE, CHRIS MESSINA / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 2ND