Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina
“These people in my life standing here, they’re waiting for something from me… they’re waiting for a miracle”, so says Al Pacino’s AJ Manglehorn as he ponders his own existence at the start of David Gordon Green’s muted but magnificent dramedy. The words come from Manglehorn’s mouth, but Pacino himself could just as easily have said them. After all, over the last 10 years we’ve seen the once great godfather of the screen reduced to starring in crummy Jon Avnet thrillers and a crass Adam Sandler comedy.
Along with his brilliantly brassy performance in Danny Collins earlier this year, Manglehorn represents a revival in the aging actor’s career. It’s a performance rich with emotional complexity and perfused with real pain. Pacino’s Manglehorn is a solitary soul with shabby dress, slouched shoulders and greasy hair. He spends his days working as a locksmith, and his nights licking the wounds left by a long lost love. The only real connection he has is with his ailing cat Fanny, and the only person he has regular contact with is a warm-hearted bank teller named Dawn (Holly Hunter).
Since ditching the derivative comedies of Hollywood and returning to the world of independent American cinema, Green has struggled to once more find his voice. 2013’s Prince Avalanche was a drab and dreary drama that left little impression, while last year’s Joe was an intelligent but imbalanced commentary on life in America’s poverty-stricken South.
With Manglehorn however, Green has finally found the right register. Aided by Paul Logan’s profound script, the director delicately crafts an intimate lamentation on loneliness and the aging process that’s emotively reminiscent of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and, to a lesser extent, Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. It’s heavy on pathos, but never overbearingly so; sensitive in way that’s true, not twee.
To help amplify the isolation of his focal character, Green utilises every creative component available. Tim Orr’s terrific cinematography evocatively captures Manglehorn’s seclusion within society; one striking sequence sees him glide past carnage of a car crash like a ghost, the haunting chords of David Wingo’s sorrowful score accentuating the atmosphere.
There’s plenty of charm too; the obvious spark between Pacino and Hunter instils heart and honesty into Dawn and Manglehorn’s developing relationship, and Logan compliments the tender tone of their tale with a wry wit. The only real weak link is Harmony Korine, whose larger-than-life performance as AJ’s former protégé turned pimp fails to compliment the film’s innate subtlety.
Nothing can truly detract from the power of Pacino’s presence. He presents us with a man damaged by the decisions of his past, but one determined to finally try and move forward…mirroring Pacino’s own personal career trajectory. His fans may have found themselves standing around for a long time, but their wait for a miracle looks to finally be over.