Directed by: David Gordon Green.
Written by: Paul Logan.
Starring: Al Pacino (A.J. Manglehorn), Holly Hunter (Dawn), Chris Messina (Jacob), Harmony Korine (Gary), Natalie Wilemon (Clara Massey), Skylar Gasper (Kylie).
David Gordon Green’s career has been an odd one. I loved his first four films – George Washington (2000), All the Real Girls (2003), Undertow (2004) and Snow Angels (2007) – which were very small, intimate portraits of real people, that often drew comparisons to the work of Terrence Malick (who produced Undertow). But, nobody really saw those films – no matter how good they were – and so Green moved over into mainstream comedy – finding success in Pineapple Express (2008), and then utter failure in Your Highness and The Sitter (both 2011). He’s now in an odd spot in his career – trying to do something smaller and more personal, but still make it somewhat mainstream. His last two films – Prince Avalanche (2013) with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as road workers in the middle of nowhere, and Joe (2014) with Nicolas Cage as an ex-con and the bond he forms with a teenage boy were both good (especially Joe), but he hasn’t reached the heights of his early career either. His latest, Manglehorn, tries some interesting things – both visually and with sound – and features two very good performances, by Al Pacino and Holly Hunter, but is so slight that there isn’t enough here to sustain a movie. You could have said the same thing about Green’s earliest films – but those had the rhythm of real life. Manglehorn feels somehow slight and contrived at the same time.
Pacino stars in the title role as AJ Manglehorn, an elderly locksmith who has been pining away from the same woman for decades now – writing her long letters that always come back return to sender, but he writes them anyway. He was married once – not to the woman he is so in love with – and had a son, Jacob (Chris Messina) – who doesn’t much like him, and doesn’t have a reason to – although Manglehorn does get along with his granddaughter. A younger woman at the bank, Dawn (Holly Hunter), does seem to like him though – he’s the friendly old customer who talks about his cat, and asks about her dog. Then there’s Gary – an old classmate of Jacob’s, played by director Harmony Korine – although what the hell he’s doing in the movie is anyone’s guess, no matter how amusing he can be.
The best thing you can say about Manglehorn is that it’s one of Pacino’s best recent performances – and his quietest. Pacino has – throughout his career – gone bombastic as often as not (and why not, when you’re as good at going bombastic as he is) – but it has become a crutch to him in recent years. Here – as in The Humbling from earlier this year – Pacino is trying, and succeeding, in toning that down. This is a quiet performance of a heartbroken, soft spoken man. He’s quiet, socially awkward, more than a little creepy – but he feels somewhat real. It’s perhaps even more of an accomplishment that Hunter makes her attraction to this man even slightly believable – as it makes no logical sense.
Other than that – and a few moments where Green experiments with visuals and sound – there isn’t much to Manglehorn. It’s a rather sad movie of a life wasted – that in the late stages he finally decides to move beyond. It’s a sad little movie – but there just isn’t enough here to make it worthwhile.