In the stories we tell, love is so often the key to happiness. In Al Pacino’s embittered locksmith though, it turns out to be the lock that’s imprisoned him behind a wall of rage and self-pity for the better part of his adult life. David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn is light on story and entirely reliant on Pacino, but it’s a task the veteran actor is more than capable of as his Venice renaissance continues.
Pacino plays A.G. Manglehorn, a lonely man living out his days in cluttered surroundings writing impossibly earnest love letters to Clara, the one that got away. He did marry but as he tells his son Jacob, he never loved her. This frank honesty and a testy temper help to explain why Manglehorn and Jacob (Harmony Korine), a shady commodities trader, don’t get on. A meal out ends acrimoniously when Manglehorn insults the food and bigs up the meagre achievements of Gary (Chris Messina) a high school drug addict he used to coach baseball. Later on, he can’t dismiss his son’s request for financial aid quickly enough.
A combination of repression and detachment form Manglehorn’s main responses to the world. This gives Pacino free rein to rove from heartfelt soliloquies as he writes forlorn notes to his lost love to temper tantrums and truly awkward conversational choices. The pick of these is his decision to use a date with Dawn, Holly Hunter’s pleasant bank clerk, to speak on the subject of Clara. When she reacts badly, his comments on the effect various foods have on his bowels does little to alleviate the situation.
Manglehorn’s problem is that he only really wants for one thing and he won’t allow himself that aside from treasured moments with his granddaughter and cat Fanny. Fanny is the repository for decades of wasted love. He makes sure to tell the few people he actually converses with about her and shows touching concern when she has to undergo an operation after swallowing a key. The joy on his face when she starts eating again is a look he’s shown no human for a long time.
While Pacino lets loose up front, Green draws on a mix of Prince Avalanche’s dreamy visuals and Joe’s grimy side of life. It’s not a combination that works particularly effectively, creating only a watered down version of both. The intense focus on Manglehorn also reduces the space for others. Hunter especially is left only with the opportunity to shepherd a lost man towards the light. She grabs the small scope allowed in the dinner scene brilliantly making the decision to otherwise leave her on the side-lines all the more maddening.
The trump card is always Pacino though. The slight story gives him an open field to play in and he capitalises. Rising above a predictably neat ending, and unsubtle cues – the decision to cast him as a locksmith is all too physician, heal thyself – Manglehorn belongs to his actor in a careworn performance that demands watching.
Director: David Gordon Green
Writer: Paul Logan
Stars: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina