"I like your smile, Dawn."
An interesting collision happened recently between a director and an actor. The director, David Gordon Green, was once billed to be the next Terrence Malick, but seemed content to be the next Bob Clark. The actor, Al Pacino, was once a revered actor who championed the Stella Adler method, but like Brando before him, devolved into self parody somewhere along the line. That these two figures, almost tragic in nature, would come together for such a startlingly mediocre film as "Manglehorn," is a tragedy of almost equal proportion.
As the eponymous locksmith, Pacino walks through life almost as an alien observer. What makes him human, however, is his longing for Clara, the woman he left to marry the now deceased mother of his son Jacob (Chris Messina). Throughout the film, Manglehorn is prone to breaking out in bouts of poetic regret, often accompanied by a phat beat that one might mistake for one of those hip, Shatner-esque spoken word albums. A strangely sweet romance soon breaks out between Manglehorn and a kindly bank teller named Dawn (Holly Hunter). This quickly becomes the film's saving grace, because the early goings are maddeningly bizarre and listless.
You haven't lived until you've seen Al Pacino, the actor, walk through a five car pileup while attempting to maintain control of a long-haired cat that absolutely does not want to be carried in this manner. The film is worth recommending if for no other reason that some of this stuff has to be seen to be believed. Ever wanted to see a duet of "Love Lifted Me" in a bank? Want to see what an old man coffee circle would look like if Al Pacino was one of the old men? It's like the bucket list you never knew you wanted.
The script by first time feature film writer Paul Logan shows flashes of brilliance like in the protractedly awkward encounters between Manglehorn and Dawn. Sadly these moments are few and far between, and the script seems content to do nothing more buck convention rather than trying to find newer, more interesting ways of exploiting the same age old formula.
It's this weirdness that Green latches onto, ultimately to the film's detriment. He wants the film to be this mystical film about big ideas filtered through the eyes of a codger, but the script is trying to stay firmly grounded in realism. The film feels at war with itself, swinging wildly from impressionistic tableaus vivant to bland shot/reverse shot stagings, and the script is doing the exact same thing bouncing between achingly honest and desperately inelegant.
Brace yourself because I'm about to plunge the depths of obscurity with this next sentence. The film plays almost like a highlight reel for someone attempting to land a job remaking Werner Herzog's "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?" I suppose the biggest disappointment of all is that Pacino is playing Manglehorn very, very close to the vest. The character himself is not that far removed from every other character Pacino has ever played. Pacino’s curse is that he was born with a world weariness that worked so brilliantly when he was younger.
In those late 80s to late 90s “hoo-ah” years when he foundered, badly, it was him trying to recapture the vitality he had spent his youth repressing on screen. He’s sort of sadly now stuck in this phase that should have immediately followed his triumphs of the 70s, where the performances are nicely drawn and elegant, but don’t have much demonstrative growth beyond “not hollering and screaming for half the movie." But fret not, he's set to work with Harmony Korine for his next film. The head shaking just never stops with Pacino.
Also, word of warning to anyone planning to watch this film with a cat lover, don't let them watch the film with you. It's no "Sátántangó," but—two words—cat surgery.