EIFF 2015 Review – Manglehorn (2014)

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Fresh from the excellent Nicolas Cage starring Joe, writer-director David Gordon Green provides a similarly triumphant vehicle for Al Pacino in Manglehorn. This tale of self-realisation is filled with poetic visual clout, complex emotion, and authentic performance from Pacino and Holly Hunter.

Heartbroken by a past relationship, small-town locksmith A. J Manglehorn (Pacino) struggles to move on with his life. Distractions come in the form of his beloved pet cat’s illness and a blossoming friendship with chirpy bank teller Dawn (Hunter).

Green gives Manglehorn an almost dreamlike aesthetic. From Pacino’s gravelly lyrical voice-overs (which sound a touch like Leonard Cohen) to the often blurred visuals packed with faded colours from DoP Tim Orr, Manglehorn channels its protagonists weary broken heartedness in its style. In terms of production design Green’s film chooses crummy wooden decor and plastic furniture in its darkened interiors, whilst exterior scenes are chock full of pulsing neon lights – whether from cheap casinos or sleazy massage parlours.  There is a light and beauty to be found in the heartfelt scenes between Manglehorn and his granddaughter (shot in open park spaces filled with lush greens) and in the pleasantly bright bank where the effervescent Dawn works.

Pacino’s career has gradually been rolling back on track with excellent performances in The Last Act (aka The Humbling) and Danny Collins, however David Gordon Green and screenwriter Paul Logan find the most astute use for his talents in Manglehorn. The actor is given a truly multi-faceted character to play here: Manglehorn is wryly charming (especially when with Dawn), yet in equal amounts selfish and subsequently hurtful – all of which stems back to his lovelorn heartbreak. As our protagonist gradually comes to terms with this, we see glimmers of the kindness and warmth that Manglehorn presumably only shared with his pet cat beforehand.

There is a real heartfelt quality to Logan’s screenplay. The scribe captures a poignancy in gentle scenes between the locksmith and his beloved puss, Fanny, and the veterinary scenes are likely to hit the emotions of all pet owners. Logan captures the concept of unrequited love on several levels – in Manglehorn’s own heartbreak, a broken father-son dynamic, and Dawn’s feelings for the occasionally-charming Manglehorn. Hunter is sublime particularly as we see that kind, vivacious personality get hurt in the locksmith’s self-obsessed tales of his own heartbreak. It’s tough to watch but there is a refreshing honesty in Hunter’s exceptional performance as Dawn.

Logan’s narrative scope is admirably slim and focussed. In capturing Manglehorn’s relationship with his estranged son (an impressive Chris Messina) and his own off-kilter behaviour – whether in his selfishness towards Dawn and his family or in his uncharacteristic behaviour (captured  in a fiery scene where he visits a sleazy massage parlour – run by an amusing Harmony Korine) – Logan sets this tale of self-realisation up for a soaring conclusion. As we see Manglehorn come to terms with his own mistakes, Green’s conclusion is emotionally transcendent and hits with a heart-warming impact.

Manglehorn not only provides an inspired turn for Pacino, it marks David Gordon Green’s cinematic masterpiece.


Andrew McArthur

Genre: Drama Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival Release Date (UK): 7th August 2015 Director: David Gordon Green Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina, Natalie Wilemon, Harmony Kimone