Al Pacino’s naturalism is a great gift to cinema. As an ageing locksmith afraid to retire and stuck on a woman who left him decades earlier, he lives alone in a small town. His closest friends are his cat and an addict, the owner of a local tanning/massage parlour (Harmony Korine). He behaves just like that person. He knows how to cut a key, jimmy a clock, cuddle his cat and you know him.
His situation sounds melancholy but Pacino gives Manglehorn contentment and a spirit that seldom flags. Pacino imbues this anonymous person with heart and soul with extremely limited dialogue. His interactions with his cat as he goes about the house or fins his tools in the lock shop are amazing.
Manglehorn’s described as “eccentric” – a man of habit, used to his son (Chris Messina), the investment banker, being distant and dismissive, used to his small town friends and local pancake suppers, used to being alone with his cat. He meets people through work, opening their safes and doors but is most content carrying kitty on their walks in the woods.
But there is a dark place. He won’t invite anyone into his life because his head is full of Clara, his lover who left him decades earlier. He writes her constantly in hope that she will show up one day but she only responded to tell him not to contact her. Undeterred he writes constantly, and no answers come.
Fridays he goes to the bank where a teller (Holly Hunter) flirts with him as they transact business. He flirts back but doesn’t really mean it because she’s not Clara. Their link is being single and their pets.
He asks Dawn on a date but gets lost in himself talking about the saintly, beautiful Clara. Hunter’s devastated response is one of the film’s dramatic highlights. It barely registers with him as he eats the food on her plate after she leaves him alone in the restaurant.
The cat has to have an operation, as she’s swallowed a key. It’s a major moment for Manglehorn and for the viewers, because he’ll not have her for a week, but we get to watch kitty’s operation close-up. Odd but fascinating cinematic choice. There seems to be love in it.
There is such dignity to Manglehorn, the way he cares for his cat and tries to repair the damage with Dawn, and in the way he lives and functions alone. He’s not depressed; he’s just living a life, reflecting on things while he and the cat go fishing or people watching.
When his angry and unforgiving son shows up in trouble, Manglehorn is surprisingly unforgiving. He tells him he loves him but refuses to buy into the self-pity, maybe because his son never paid him any attention but he certainly doesn’t want this anxiety spoiling his ordered life. Ads he doesn’t feel sorry for himself; its beneath him.
Green’s early film George Washington is a breathtaking piece of drama and Pineapple Express is high comedy. Manglehorn is neither of these films – it’s a character study beautifully crafted and detailed. And he helped Pacino create a memorable character that in some ways is relatable to any of us.
Written by Paul Logan
Directed by David Gordon Green
Rated PG-13 on appeal for some sexual content and language, and for accident and surgery images
Starring Al Pacino, Holly Hunter and Harmony Korine
Rating 3 / 5
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