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Movie Review: Manglehorn

Pacino tones it down for muted character study.

Review by Brandon Wolfe

Al Pacino, great actor though he is, has lapsed into self-parody in recent years, falling back on his loud “hoo-HA!” default mode more often than not. It’s a fate that befalls many longstanding actors, sinking into something of a trademarked house style. For Pacino, nuance and subtlety went out the window long ago, replaced by staccato shouting and theatrical overkill. The simmering slow-burn of the actor’s younger days had long since given way to his voracious appetite for scenery.

So Manglehorn stands as something of a departure for Pacino. His full-bore volatility is toned completely down, essaying a far quieter character than usual. He plays Angelo Manglehorn, a man living a quiet life of solitude, working as a locksmith and doting on his beloved pet cat, Fanny. Manglehorn is a soft-spoken sort who kindly flirts with a teller (Holly Hunter) at the bank when he makes his weekly deposit each Friday. Our initial impression of him is that he is pleasant, if melancholy, man, but in his more prolonged interactions with people, we begin to gain a sense of how curdled and bitter Manglehorn actually is. When he stops by the office of his well-to-do son (Chris Messina) for an impromptu visit, we first intuit that the son is a hostile jerk who won’t spare a minute of his precious time for his dear old dad, who comes bearing a stuffed animal for his granddaughter. Yet when we see the two at dinner in a subsequent scene, it becomes clear that Manglehorn is the problem. His cold condescension and caustic detachment become impossible to ignore.
Regret infuses every fiber of Manglehorn’s existence. He is obsessed with a woman named Clara, a lost love from his past that he has never gotten over (even though, we later learn, his aloofness is what pushed her away). He pines for her on a constant basis, blithely confessing to his son that she, not his mother, was the true love of his life. Manglehorn still sends letters to Clara that bounce back marked “Return to Sender.” He keeps a room in his house as a sort of cluttered shrine to her, which looks like something maintained by either a serial killer or a detective obsessed with catching one. When he finally takes that nice lady from the bank out to dinner, he can’t shut up about how perfect Clara was, assuring his date that she shouldn’t feel too bad because no one could possibly match such an angel as his Clara.

Manglehorn is a frustrating character, yet one you do sort of root for to overcome his demons. It’s clear that he isn’t intentionally trying to be a jerk to anyone, but is so mired in remorse over what he allowed to slip away that it unconsciously informs everything he does or says. He is a desperately lonely man, yet he self-defeatingly severs any available avenue toward connection with another person. So stuck in the past is he that his future is paying the price for it. His kindness is genuine, but he is simply too broken to succeed at anything that delves beyond the level of surface pleasantries.
Pacino does fine work in the film. He makes the character at turns affable, enervating and pitiful. He does a lot of seemingly ad-libbed muttering (another late-period Pacino staple, for better or worse), but paints a full picture of this man’s long-troubled existence. Still, there is the sense that Manglehorn (which, incidentally, sounds like the title of a two-bit horror film rather than a sleepy drama) is a bit thin as a film. A character study of a doddering old man prone to rose-colored reminiscing does tend to test the limits of patience at times, and there is the character of a sleazy massage-parlor entrepreneur (Harmony Korine) to whom Manglehorn takes an inexplicable shine, much to his son’s consternation, that probably could have been excised from the film to the benefit of the whole. Moreover, the film builds to a redemption of sorts for its titular character that, while pleasant, seems too pat by half.

Manglehorn was directed by David Gordon Green, a director who cut his teeth on small, offbeat dramas before getting lost in the weeds of increasingly disposable mainstream comedies (Your Highness, The Sitter) starring slumming Apatow veterans. Here, as with his recent film Joe starring Nicolas Cage, he has gone back to his roots and now performs the secondary function of redeeming wayward stars. Cage, an actor in far more dire straits than Pacino, actually won raves for his work in that film, turning in a dramatic performance that reminded many of the actor he once was before poor career choices and direct-to-video detritus tarnished him. Now Green has brought some luster back to Pacino as well, locating an actor who had largely lost himself in work well beneath him. If nothing else, that’s something to hoo-HA about.


Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.



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