Director: David Gordon Green
Major Players: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine
Out Of Five: 3.5
Al Pacino may have shot to fame by sinisterly underplaying Michael Corleone, but he’s an actor with an unerring ability to go right over the top. He even won an Oscar for it – yes, he’s only ever won the one – and that was Scent Of A Woman. Hoo hah!
And since then he’s found it hard to resist, so hats off to indie director David Gordon Green for keeping him on a tight rein in Manglehorn. It’s really paid off and it’s quite possibly Pacino’s best piece of serious acting since David Fincher’s Insomnia – and that was back in 2002.
A J Manglehorn (Pacino) is a solitary locksmith in a small Texas town. With only his beloved cat for company, he still can’t forget losing the love of his life and finds anything of a social nature difficult, even having a simple conversation. Nonetheless, he embarks on a tentative friendship with bank clerk Dawn (Holly Hunter) who offers the hope of a fresh start. But first he has to confront the failed relationships in his past.
Pacino’s performance is full of insight into the mind and life of a very lonely man. He’s chosen his own company and prefers it that way – or so he thinks. But he is deeply lonely and needs people around him, even if all the important relationships in his life so far have crumbled. He didn’t love his wife and they had a child hoping it would make things better. It didn’t and now his relationship with his son is tenuous at best. And then there’s Clara, the real love of his life, who he let go. Yet she’s a constant presence in his mind: he continually writes letters to her, which double as something of a narration for the film, but they are always sent back.
In fact, as far as his life now is concerned, his only real relationship is with his white Persian cat – although, holding it in his arms, he looks nothing like Blofeld. He talks to it and spends a fortune on an operation when she’s ill. The cause? She’s swallowed a key. Apart from that, he only comes into contact with people at work, opening doors for them when they’ve locked themselves out. If only he could find somebody to do the same for him.
While Pacino is masterly to watch, Holly Hunter also shines as the shy bank clerk who knows she’s developed more than a soft spot for the eccentric old recluse and that it might be her last chance of happiness. She’s sympathetic and likeable and does it with great delicacy.
The film itself has some quirky touches, almost a trademark of its director. Like the bees creating a honeycomb under the mail box outside Manglehorn’s house. It’s turns out to be the start of him making some changes in his life: it’s been there for weeks, he’s done nothing about it and then he removes the honeycomb and shuts it in the mailbox. Or there’s the man with a bunch of flowers who walks into the bank and breaks into song. Judging from the expressions of the staff in the bank, you think he’s ill: one of them reaches for his phone, calling the cops perhaps. Not so. Another member of staff emerges from her office and starts singing with him. They’re a couple and he’s making up for something.
But, as a whole, it’s an uneven film with some moments that are so inconsistent they’re almost in the wrong film. We could do with far less graphic detail when it comes to the cat’s operation. That it runs in parallel with what’s happening to its owner isn’t a problem, but we don’t need all the gore. There’s a scene where Manglehorn goes to what he thinks is a tanning club and spa in search of a massage to help him relax. But he discovers the place isn’t what he thought and it provokes a violent outburst. Yet the fact that he was taken in doesn’t stack up with the man that we’ve been watching.
It’s not that huge a surprise that David Gordon Green has got such a cracking performance from Pacino. He managed to do the same with the usually even hammier Nicolas Cage in Joe (2014) and Paul Rudd delivered a more than creditable straight performance in the bizarrely named Prince Avalanche (2013). Manglehorn is an uneven film lifted by its central performance. It’s close to being a one man show – and that man is Pacino.
Manglehorn is released in cinemas on Friday, 7 August and is reviewed on Talking Pictures.