TIFF veteran David Gordon Green returns with his latest film Manglehorn, starring Al Pacino in a late-career performance that proves he is still one of the greats. Pacino plays A.J. Manglehorn, a lonely man stuck in the ruts of running his own business as a locksmith, pining over a past love, and making few attempts to repair his strained relationship with his son. As he descends further into desperation, he reaches the point where he is finally able to let go of past regrets and find the magic again in living life.
Manglehorn is stuck in a dream-like trance of routine and solitude. He gets very little satisfaction from helping countless people replace lost keys, opening safes, and unlocking car doors. The monotonous, repetitive nature of his job gives him very little to hope for. His only forms of companionship come from his pet cat and Clara (Holly Hunter), the bank teller he visits every Friday. His flirting with Clara finally results in a date and thus begins the momentum of change in Manglehorn’s life. As he attempts to get closer to his son Jacob (Chris Messina) and his love interest, he finds that he is still very much attached to the past and he has difficulty moving forward. Ultimately he reaches the breaking point and is pushed to make the changes in his life that will allow him to find happiness again.
Pacino gives an admiral performance with the material he was given, which is the strongest element of the film. He portrays this deeply flawed character with great nuance that comes from being an acting veteran and being able to fully understand what makes this man tick. This work elevates the overall quality of the film. The final moments of the film represent his new found happiness quite nicely.
This is a film about contemplating what’s important in your life, breaking out of destructive habits, and deciding to make changes to your life for the better. It’s about learning to let go of past regrets and moving forward to get the fulfillment we all deserve. However, certain stylistic choices made by the director and editor, as well a script that has a loose, ambiguous structure cause the film to have difficulty in portraying these themes to the viewer.
While Manglehorrn is stumbling through life at the beginning of the film, there was a conscious decision by the director to have a sensory overload effect that enhances the dream-like state our main character is experiencing because his hopelessness about living and his situation. Competing voices, sounds, and distractions act as disorienting effects and succeed in their intended purpose. Yet at times these sequences feel out of place and disjointed with the cohesion of the rest of the film. It is difficult to discern early on what the point of Manglehorn’s journey is and the overall film is weaker for it.
The film has wonderful, true moments that come from the interactions Manglehorn has with those around him. This shows the director is still capable of creating authentic, relatable characters that made his earlier work so poignant. However, this film could have done with a stronger, more structured script and would have been more successful if there weren’t confusing and competing messages. The director’s last few works have a sense that he is trying to force the replication of the dramatic successes from his initial films but he just hasn’t be able to recapture that earlier resonance, with this film being no exception. Greatness can still be found in small moments in his films, and he is a very competent and intelligent director so continued support of his work is vital even if at times he stumbles.