Take a Drink: each time Manglehorn looks depressed
Do a Shot: for each fantastical scene
Do a Shot: for the Harmony Korine cameo
Take a Drink: each time Manglehorn reads to himself aloud
Take a Drink: to Mangelhorn’s cat
By: Matt Conway (Four Beers) –
One of the most underrated directors working today is David Gordon Green. Many in the mainstream think of him as the guy who directed the hilarious stoner comedy Pineapple Express, along with also directing two critically panned, but semi-enjoyable comedies in Your Highness and The Sitter. However, his best films turn out to be his smaller projects, with indies like George Washington, All the Real Girls, and Prince Avalanche displaying his wealth of talent.
Green’s films have surprisingly become vehicles for stars to be in more dramatic work. Paul Rudd was mostly known for his work in comedies, but really surprised audiences with his thoughtful, yet still funny role in Prince Avalanche. Perhaps the biggest shock was with last year’s Joe, in which Nic Cage showed audiences once he stopped with the schlock he could still act again. Green’s latest film Manglehorn is another attempt to bring new life to Al Pacino’s career, and while he shines in the film, the film itself is a mixed bag.
Manglehorn follows A.J Manglehorn, a small-town locksmith who can’t get over by the woman he loved and lost several years ago. The film follows his attempts at making peace with his past and trying to start anew.
Manglehorn, like all of David Gordon Green’s work, looks distinct yet beautiful. Green mostly is forced to work using smaller budgets, which forces him to rely on his and his cinematographer Tim Orr’s respective creative eyes. Orr is able to shoot films to match several distinct styles, and is able to do such within the rustic Texas landscape. During some of the more fantasy-driven moments, Green’s creativity along with Orr’s steady hand create some surprisingly effective moments.
Green also thrives here at creating an effective sense of mood. In a film that is almost all talk, there has to be something more there to keep the audience engaged throughout. Green is very much aware of that, creating a mysteriously melancholic mood that keeps the audience guessing what is going to happen next.
The shining star of the film is Al Pacino, who continues to make an impressive career comeback. Here, Pacino is much more toned down than usual, putting aside his fun-loving hoo haa personality. Instead, as A.J, Pacino is able to show real anguish, a man who just can’t seem to get over the mistakes he made in his past. It’s a quiet performance that is able to speak volumes due to Pacino’s dedication to the role.
Behind Pacino is a supporting cast that is very much able to hold their own. Holly Hunter seems to not get much work anymore, but reminds audiences why she should. As Dawn, she does a great job portraying a charming, yet emotionally vulnerable character. Harmony Korine is mostly known as the out of the world director, but actually is quite convincing in a few small scenes as one of A.J’s former little league players. Chris Messina also shines as A.J’s son, having great chemistry with Pacino.
While I admire a lot of what David Gordon Green has done with his career, his effort here feels like it lacks his usually great execution. Stylistically, Manglehorn tries to create an interesting visual and audio style, yet it feels rather confused. Scenes of A.J narrating letters he wrote drowned out by Explosions in the Sky’s latest score and abstract imagery just feels rather confused, with too much going on.
Another interesting concept that lacks proper execution is the inclusion of fantasy imagery. While these moments look quite good thanks to the talent behind the camera, their purpose is not always clear. Even if it’s showing how A.J views certain scenarios, their use just feels like an excuse to add style to the film, rather than add to the story or characters.
While the protagonist of the film is very much believable, the side characters of the film lack that same realism. This was especially the case with Holly Hunter’s character, as I felt that despite her good performance, her character was poorly conceived. She is essentially a love interest in the film, but I never understood why she felt for Mangelhorn, especially after some of the abrasive things he does. The side characters in general needed more fleshing out, as detours with Manglehorn’s son and former little league player are too half-baked to hold much weight.
As far as pacing goes, Manglehorn wanders far too much. The film about 100 minutes long, a relatively short running time. However, a great deal of the time the film feels like it is meandering from scene to scene, making the running time feel much longer than it actually is. This was especially the case with the third act, which just felt dragged out rather than a fitting conclusion to the film.
Where Manglehorn disconnected with me the most was with Manglehorn himself. Pacino is clearly giving it his all, but Green’s script creates what I feel is a rather one-dimensional character. He is emotionally anguished- that’s about all there is to his character. Emotionally, audiences are supposed to connect to the character and his struggles, but it just did not come together for me.
Manglehorn will certainly have its fans, but it was a letdown for me. The hodgepodge of styles feels confused for the most part, and the characters and script are half-baked. It’s a shame that the film wastes away a great performance from Pacino, who continues to show he’s still got it.