Arts and Books

Film review: Pacino deserves better than this shaggy-dog tale

Off-key performance: Al Pacino as a lovelorn locksmith in Manglehorn

Manglehorn is a shaggy-dog story of a film. To be more accurate, it’s a shaggy-Al Pacino story, a yarn in which the great man plays a weirdly named, misanthropic locksmith who shambles between work assignments and encounters with friends, family and acquaintances.

It’s fair to say that the lank-haired Manglehorn finds the intricacies of picking a lock rather simpler to negotiate than the apparently simpler task of getting on with people.

The story is that Manglehorn has an unhappy marriage behind him, and now lives in a messy house with only his cat for company. He is haunted by memories of a woman called Clara, the one true love of his life.

When he’s not sitting around the house moping about her, he fills his days arguing with his son; hanging out with a massage parlour-owning huckster who idolises him; and engaging in an uncertain courtship with a bank clerk, played by the always magnificent Holly Hunter.

These plot machinations, which build to Manglehorn confronting his unhappy past, are utterly perfunctory – and dreadfully written. Very little rings true, save for the fleeting moments when Pacino and Hunter share the screen.

Director David Gordon Green pays little attention to boring detail like developing rounded characters or telling an interesting story, giving precedent to woozy atmospherics and spirit-sapping pretension.

So, we get a car-crash tableau that pays homage to Godard – and some close-ups of bees. Scenes shimmer into one another, plaintive instrumentals play and Pacino does a lot of mumbling in voice-over about disappointment, pain and frustration – my own inner monologue was repeating similar stuff.

This is the kind of film in which a couple of people can break into song in the middle of a bank and no one bats so much as a cheque book at them. It also has more heavy-handed symbolism than a Marcel “Bip the Clown” Marceau show.

Or it would do, if it wasn’t for the fact that a mime artist actually does turns up, to gurn and gesture his way through a couple of scenes, encouraging us, in turn, to reflect on the things we can’t say and the invisible barriers holding us back (or something equally deep and meaningful, I’m sure).

In the past, Pacino has been guilty of giving histrionic, shouty performances – it’s a small mercy that he resists that temptation here and instead gives a nuanced interpretation, which is especially praiseworthy considering the flimsy material he is working with. Pacino is clearly still capable of stellar turns, but he deserves much better than Manglehorn.

This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (07/8/15).

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