A World Without Hoo-ah: Manglehorn

by |
06/17/2015 8:10 AM |
photo courtesy of IFC Films

Manglehorn
Directed by David Gordon Green
Opens June 19

Three times in Manglehorn, supporting characters deliver monologues about the titular small-town Texas locksmith: Though our aging protagonist is a shuffling sad-sack, they all remember a fierce, mercurial, patriarch, a man with “magic” in him, down to his fingertips. Looking at Manglehorn now—like Elliott Gould’s Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, he can’t even convince his cat to eat, implore as he might—the only way these descriptions seem creditable is as fellow actors expressing their awe of the man who plays him, Al Pacino. But though Pacino does work magic here, it’s magic of a subtler, stranger kind.

Put it this way: if you’ve dreamt of watching Al Pacino mumble-sing “It’s Only a Paper Moon” to a fluffy white feline, this is your movie. When talking to people, such as his embittered, semi-estranged bigshot son (Chris Messina), or a clearly smitten bank clerk (Holly Hunter), Manglehorn seems scarcely less distracted. It’s hardly an unshowy performance, but as a display of technical virtuosity, it’s surprising and rangy from an actor frequently accused of self-parody in recent years. Pacino inhabits this hollowed-out soul most specifically in his husky voice, pacing out its decelerating rhythms and anticlimactic folksy flourishes—a chatty good-old-boy charmer’s voice, running down like a watch that hasn’t been wound in decades.

The script, by first-timer Paul Logan, gives a reason in a strikingly emotional and expository opening monologue, the first of many florid letters Manglehorn composes to a long-lost love. Like a sloppy drunk, the man bares his soul with alarming artlessness; if there’s predictable small-scale drama to be wrung from Manglehorn’s eventual return to the here and now, the exhausted, unguarded aspect of his self-pity does jibe well with the style of director David Gordon Green, who, as in his earliest indies, seeks to bring out the simple poetry of rural settings by upshifting from naturalism to lyricism in under three seconds. Seemingly finding the script thin, Green also augments it with sad piano, slo-mo and surreal touches, lurid lighting schemes, and visual and aural superimpositions as Manglehorn drifts into reverie while other people are still talking to him (particularly Harmony Korine in check-out-my-shit mode as a wired massage parlor owner). That the movie hangs together is the last of the tiny, gratuitous miracles worked by Pacino’s performance.