A wistful and surreal ramble into the crushing depths of longing, Manglehorn is a somber return to serious drama for the recently sub-par Al Pacino. Perhaps using HBO’s East Bound and Down as a comedic outlet, director David Gordon Green delivers his third in a line of serious, affecting films (his dual 2013 dramas Prince Avalanche and Joe followed his 2011 comedies The Sitter and Your Highness).
With heavy Southern Gothic undertones and an impressive eye for framing, Gordon Green invites his audience to spend some time with one of the most depressing cinematic figures in recent memory. Like a balloon blowing in the wind, Manglehorn (Al Pacino) is grounded only by a gossamer thread, spending much of his waking hours in endless, imagined conversations with an unrequited love. Details of his past are delivered in clever bursts from surrounding cast members ranging from the typically audacious Harmony Korine (“TanMan” Gary) to the more subdued Holly Hunter (Manglehorn’s secret admirer/bank teller Dawn). Not so much a cohesive beginning-to-end story as a listless, freeform profile, Gordon Green feels no pressing need to investigate the man or his background in any greater detail. Manglehorn simply allows its audience to sit back and watch as its titular character goes through a major transformative event, one delicately crafted moment at a time.
Gordon Green’s previous dramas have all contained some elements of surrealism, yet Manglehorn incorporates the vivid hallucinatory elements of late 60s/70s Godard, and the haunting quietude of Terrence Malick. Going so far as to re-create a moment from Godard’s Weekend (1967), Gordon Green uses an out-of-place car crash (complete with enough smashed watermelon to make Gallagher proud) as an unsettling reminder of just how isolated and “lost” Manglehorn truly is. His searing unhappiness permeates all aspects of his life, widening the disconnect between the man and his reality. Working as a locksmith, he often encounters people at the worst and most frustrating moments of their day. Yet being the almost magical deliverer in these moments of desperation, he offers little solace in comparison to his ceaseless longing. Even his surrounding loved ones, who speak of Manglehorn like one might of a deity or fabled hero, serve only to amplify his unfathomable sadness.
The hushed meanderings of Manglehorn proved an immense challenge for the typically bombastic Pacino. Hardly speaking above a whisper, Pacino reins in his larger-than-life persona (for the most part) in an effort to more accurately depict the dejected protagonist. Glimmers of the mega-star’s flamboyance slip out but are quickly accepted as situationally-appropriate. Korine nearly steals the show (certainly attracting the brunt of audience attention in any scene where his outrageousness is on full display) as the loud-mouthed, fast-talking Greg. Living in his typical neon-lit world (think Spring Breakers), Korine’s entire role proves to be little more than a hypnagogic contrast to Manglehorn’s icy seriousness.
In the end, Manglehorn strung me along in hopes of finding the same magic Gordon Green provided with Prince Avalanche and George Washington. Waiting, often in vain, I found myself longing for a larger scheme to present itself, yet the film never reaches the cinematic highs of its predecessors. Seldom more than a vehicle for Pacino to exercise his considerable (and still active) talents, Manglehorn is a string of engaging and breathtaking images that, when strung together, become a subdued meandering plot devoid of any real meaning.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of sunny San Diego, California. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.