From mobster to gangster to kingpin to character study, Al Pacino’s evolution is beginning to become exciting to watch, especially this year. Coming off of a high this year after playing a fictional superstar musician in Danny Collins, he’s reminded us of his talent and how it’s too soon to count him out. In Manglehorn, Pacino reprises the familiar role of a crotchety old man whose emphasis on the past is keeping him from pursuing a future. A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) owns a quiet locksmith shop in a bad neighborhood, where he mostly does house calls opening/unlocking doors for strangers. He can open up anything for strangers, but he refuses to open himself up for strangers. This excludes his cat Fanny, with whom he has a crazy-cat-lady-esque relationship that he doesn’t share with any other human, except maybe his granddaughter.
His self-imposed isolation leaves him only more time to obsess and fixate on a past relationship he had that he was unable to maintain. He writes letters to his lost love that serve as a form catharsis for him and little else. This intense, single-minded focus on the past makes him devalue any other relationship he has or might have had, whether it’s with his struggling son Jacob (Chris Messina) or his congenial bank teller Dawn (Holly Hunter). When his anchor to reality (his cat) gets sick and needs to get a key surgically removed, his nostalgic haze begins to lift, and he realizes that the relationships he has so devoutly romanticized are nothing more than failures.
Director David Gordon Green (Joe, Compliance) establishes his typical somber atmosphere and uses his characters as vehicles, traversing reminiscent terrains that lead them to new, yet-to-be-discovered paths. The film’s ponderous, dreary stylistic choices are meant to mirror Manglehorn’s own life. At a certain age, all you can do is focus on the past and what you consider “the good old days” and hold contempt for everything that happens in the present for not living up to those idealized expectations.
Pacino is on a career high this year, delivering tender moments in his genuine performances. He can do cantankerous with ease, but he also injects his own personality into his performance, making it much more authentic. This film falls heavily on Pacino’s shoulders, making his character’s metamorphosis the center of the story, even when the pacing slows to a crawl. He does the best he can with they story he is given, relying on his great chemistry with Holly Hunter to get us through the particularly sluggish scenes.
Even with Green at the helm guiding Pacino, there is little to be done with the film’s story, which is one we’ve encountered far too often: a person getting to a point in their life where they can only look back at their memories for comfort. Yeah, we’ve been there before with Pacino, and pretty recently with Danny Collins. Pacino brought a different energy to both films, but the writing is never completely up to par with the quality of his performance.
Manglehorn also suffers from a few confused visual and audio cues. Throughout the film, there are instances where we are made to question the mental stability of the character. He is frequently lost in thought, forgetting about his surroundings, and he has a constant stream of rambling, internal thoughts going on inside of his head. These all sound like early signs of dementia, which would make the character more sympathetic, but the film is wrapped up without making any medical claims. We’re left to chalk it up to the character being unpleasant and sour.
Manglehorn serves as a sleepy delivery system for Pacino to let us know his best work may still be ahead of him. As a film, it just serves as yet another reminder that our twilight years will be full of reminiscing and possibly a pet or two.
RATING: ★★★★★ (5/10 stars)