David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn is a surreal and painfully accurate portrayal of isolation that features the most essential Pacino performance in over a decade.
Return Of The Kingby Dave O'Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Having effectively defibrillated Nicolas Cage’s ailing career with Joe, director David Gordon Green returns with a shot at redemption for acting royalty, Alfredo James Pacino. Bar an incredible turn as AIDS survivor Roy Cohn in TV miniseries Angels In America, it’s been over twelve years since the eight-time Oscar-nominee has truly delivered a performance of note. Shedding the hoo-ha and bluster that has so often typified his career post Dog Day Afternoon, Manglehorn represents a less vibrant, low-key and passive Pacino – and it’s wonderful. First-time writer Paul Hogan’s miserable curmudgeon of a character fits the 75-year old actor like a glove, the result of which marks the first essential Pacino film in over a decade.
A miserable old locksmith with a penchant for self-loathing, Angelo J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) leads a paltry existence in a small Texan town. Estranged from his son Jacob (Chris Messina) and haunted by long lost love, Clara, his only comfort is derived from his pet cat Fanny and his weekly visit to bank teller Dawn (Holly Hunter). In the midst of the ‘chalk and cheese’ relationship that ensues with Dawn as well as his own demons, Angelo is forced to deal with the past that is sabotaging his future.
David Gordon Green’s latest film is not only a great Al Pacino film, it’s also a good film with plenty of interesting things to say. There is no question that first-time scriptwriter Paul Logan’s story suffers from occasionally trite dialogue and overly-familiar characters, but this is offset by wry humour and an intimate examination of loneliness. Some will guffaw at internal monologues that feature dialogue like “I’m losing hope in tomorrow” or “I’d give up everything for one more glance”, but the undeniable truth is that the sentiments of Hogan’s script are incisive and honest. The film takes place inside the private prison of Angelo’s mind. Ravaged by regret, he uses past failures like a coat of armour against the future. Gordon Green and cinematographer Tim Orr give isolation a presence in Manglehorn, to the extent that it’s almost tangible.
The cold and artificial blues and greens of Angelo’s life bathe the vacuousness of his existence. Orr and Gordon Green use countless wide shots as if to put distance between the audience and Angelo. Using slow motion shots to highlight life literally passing Angelo by, the visuals magnify Angelo’s sense of disconnect. There’s also a purposeful incongruity to shots of Angelo reading love letters to Clara cut together with events occurring simultaneously outside of his headspace. It effectively juxtaposes the world inside Angelo’s head and the world going on around him regardless. These off-kilter moments felt like eulogies, as if to emphasise the fact that Angelo has already given up on himself.
Pacino is completely at ease with this character, so much so that it feels like a very intimate role. Manglehorn imbues the audience with a familiarity to Angelo’s issues, the regret, guilt and pain is something that resonates. Delivering gravely, garbled and sometimes incoherent monologues, Angelo is a glorious mess of a man. Gordon Green gets carried away with symbolism; a locksmith all locked in to himself and literally keeping the past under lock and key, mime artists symbolising a muted Angelo and a bee hive under his mailbox to reinforce the barbed relationship he has with expression. Several of these are at first clever, but by the end of the film it all feels like Gordon Green is trying to make his point a little too hard.
In terms of supporting actors, this is very much Pacino’s film, but Harmony Korine (director of Spring Breakers) is hilarious as an ex-little league player of Angelo’s, and Holly Hunter is refreshing if under-utilised as the spritely Dawn. Gordon Green’s film has its flaws but none that detract from what is an otherwise beautiful little story about letting life pass you by. His previous films Prince Avalanche and Joe highlighted a knack for nailing the microscopic minutia of friendship, and Gordon Green’s latest does a similar thing for isolation and regret. Manglehorn is a touching and enjoyable cautionary tale that tells us that the past is in the past, and that you should never tell a woman that she looks like a racehorse.
Manglehorn is released on 7th August 2015 in the UK