At the Venice press conference for “Manglehorn,” in one of the rare moments when the film’s star Al Pacino wasn’t expounding endlessly, before mercifully saying “Oh listen to me go on; I put a blanket on everything” and then going on further, director David Gordon Green was asked why he chose Pacino for this role. His answer said a lot – perhaps a little too much – about his film: He had met Pacino, who he greatly admired, and wanted to work with him – it was as simple as that. He’d had this character in mind, and he and his writer Paul Logan set to work to make it happen, throwing in a bunch of references to Pacino films from the past. There is much to like about “Manglehorn” but one’s vague feeling that something is a bit off can perhaps be tied back to this enthrallment, and indeed to the casting itself.
A.J. Manglehorn is a sad sack Texas locksmith who manages to push everyone who loves him away, notably Clara, a former lover who he let get away from him and to whom he repeatedly writes apologetic letters that are returned. Then there’s his son Jacob, (Chris Messina), an investment guy who Manglehorn doesn’t much like; or if he does, Jacob would be the last to know it. Finally, there’s Holly Hunter’s bank clerk, who woos Manglehorn on a date, which he ruins by talking solely about how wonderful Clara was. Manglehorn, in other words, is incredibly annoying.
He also seems just a tad unreal, at least with Al Pacino playing him. Is it really believable that Manglehorn takes his fluffy cat on walks and fishing with him? Is it really believable that he obsesses madly over this cat? Is it really believable that he keeps in his locked garage a – well, that would be a spoiler, though it’s so obvious as to be a real un-surprise. Is the last scene really believable – would anyone do that? You be the judge but I vote ‘no, not really.’ Though with a non-movie star playing him he’d have more of a chance. Pacino’s talents and atmospherics don’t really bring much to the table, frankly. Does Manglehorn the character really need the shuffling, the side-long glances, the dark intensity? Maybe just the opposite would give him life.
Again, “Manglehorn” the movie has a lot going for it. Holly Hunter, for one, Harmony Korine as an obnoxious salon owner who reveres his former little league coach, for another. My favorite moment in the film is his, when he explains to a masseuse why Manglehorn is so special – never mind that this man has just responded insanely to the suggestion that he might enjoy the masseuse’s offerings. Would anyone today really respond this way? Maybe if you wanted to see a great actor get his chops off, yeah – perhaps this was one of those moments referencing a former Pacino film.
Of course Pacino is a great actor, but sometimes greatness is not what’s needed. Could be just the opposite.