Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter
Director: David Gordon Green
There’s a faint air of an over-sixties version of Pacino’s 1991 hit Frankie and Johnny to David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, except that this is how it would play out in real life, warts, senior citizen discounts and all. Al Pacino plays the titular character, an ageing locksmith who seems to be a picture of loneliness and yearning. He spends his evenings pouring his heart out in letters to a long-lost sweetheart, while the one bright spot in his week is chatting up the local bank teller (Holly Hunter). Seems like it wouldn’t take much for romance to blossom…
Except that this isn’t a rom-com, and it turns out that Manglehorn is a contradictory so-and-so. As much as he’s drawn to people, he’s also inclined to become cranky and defensive, and when the two meet up for a disastrous lunch, we quickly see why his city slicker son (Chris Messina) has learnt to be extremely wary of him. As for this long-lost love he’s cherishing, perhaps he’s just using that as an excuse to push other people away? Perhaps Manglehorn has simply given up on life?
The film is at heart a character study, a slow, patient examination of a man and the forces that lead him to isolate himself. Needless to say, it’s dominated by Pacino, who resists the temptation (if it even was one for him) to give his role even the slightest suggestion of twinkly cuteness or a sentimental soft centre. He’s prepared to make Manglehorn hard to like and tough to be around. At the same time, by dialling down his performance and making it seem, at times, as if he’s simply being himself in front of the camera, he seems to imply that he identifies with the locksmith’s locked in, walled up, battened-down mindset.
Perhaps because the director’s main focus was on coaxing this performance from his star, other aspects of the film feel a little undernourished and lacking in dramatic urgency. For a movie that’s supposed to be about dipping your toe back into life, there’s not that much sense of a world going on around Manglehorn, and poor Holly Hunter isn’t given a whole lot to do except eat pancakes and have the occasional sniffle. For this reason, Manglehorn isn’t quite on a par with David Gordon Green’s excellent previous effort, Joe, but it’s well worth seeing for its gritty central performance. 7/10