Review: Manglehorn (TIFF 2014)
PLOT: An elderly key maker (Al Pacino) lives a quiet life in a small town while pining for his long-long love.
REVIEW: MANGLEHORN seems to be director David Gordon Green's attempt at telling a fable, with his typical, dreamy approach lending itself well to the story of an lonely old man who seems to have a little actual magic in his bones. In his small town, Manglehorn(Pacino)is a legend, followed-around by a hero worshipping low-life (an appropriately repulsive Harmony Korine) who tells everyone about the time Manglehorn magically healed a dog at a baseball game. Despite this, he lives a quiet life working in his key shop and doing jobs as a locksmith. He's isolated himself from everyone, minus his beloved cat and granddaughter, with his heart full of regret over Clara, the woman he left behind forty years ago, and to whom he constantly writes love letters that are returned unopened.
Al Pacino hasn't had a role like this in a while. While he has a tendency these days to go extremely broad in his performances, when he's got the right material, such as the HBO Telefilms YOU DON'T KNOW JACK or PHIL SPECTOR, he's as good as he ever was. Pairing him with David Gordon Green is especially intriguing, with him known for favoring low-key acting, and having already directed another actor known for chewing scenery – Nicholas Cage – to one of his best performances in years with JOE. While MANGLEHORN is no JOE, it nonetheless has an absolutely amazing turn by Pacino, with him flourishing under Green's direction and perfectly fitting in to his kind of dreamy, southern-Gothic world.
There's not too much to MANGLEHORN's story, as it's more-or-less just a slice-of-life as we watch this man come to terms with the notion that his best days are behind him, yet it's always compelling. Pacino plays so well off Green's eclectic mix of non-professional actors and pros. He fits into the world seamlessly, such as a great scene where he shoots the breeze with some old guys at a Royal Legion Pancake dinner that feels so real it's like you're not watching acting. He's extremely naturalistic, and he dials it back anytime you think he might launch into a more conventional performance, like his climactic heart-to-heart with his estranged, shady businessman son (Chris Messina).
While this is Pacino's show all the way, with him barely offscreen, Holly Hunter has a nice part as a local bank teller Manglehorn has a crush on, but pushes away during an agonizing date where he starts telling her all about his great lost love. Hunter is heartbreaking with him shooting her down every time she tries to express any kind of vulnerability. As is typical for a Green film, the cinematography by regular DP Tim Orr is gorgeous, as is the amazing score by David Wingo and Explosions from the Sky, which does a good job complementing the occasional lapses into magic realism.
Even though MANGLEHORN isn't as engaging as JOE (which I think ranks as Green's best film since ALL THE REAL GIRLS) it's nonetheless an interesting fable that's always compelling, and gives Pacino a terrific late-career part that proves the man's talent hasn't diminished in any way. Hopefully Pacino and Green with work together again.