Barry Levinson’s The Humbling may have been met with mixed reviews in Venice, but there’s been praise pretty much across the board for Al Pacino‘s lead performance. Now comes David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, and it’s “showcased the finest performance Pacino has delivered in years,” argues the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. This is “a beguiling, minor-key study of the lion in winter, mane gone grey, claws all blunted. Pacino is Angelo Manglehorn, a one-time roustabout who ekes out a living as a locksmith in Texas.” And the 74-year-old actor offers “a subtle master class in neutral shading, with none of the garish flashes that sometimes bedevil his work. The actor’s natural tendency is to hit for the fences and crank up the volume, often magnificently (Dog Day Afternoon), occasionally not (The Scent of a Woman). But Manglehorn provides him with a grand late renaissance, a fresh string to his bow. It takes the splenetic livewire of American film and installs him as condemned human property, boarded up and fenced off. The irony is that, by playing this wreck, Pacino looks as vital and exciting as he did in his pomp.”
Manglehorn’s “still pining over an affair he had a decade earlier with a woman named Clara; he still writes daily letters to his lost love,” writes Time‘s Richard Corliss. “That leaves him little emotional energy to expend on his businessman son (Chris Messina), his tanning-salon friend (Harmony Korine) or the nice lady at the bank (Holly Hunter) who’s interested in pursuing a relationship but whose flirtation skills have rusted over: her conversation ascends quickly from ‘I like your shirt’ to ‘Let’s take a bath together.’ … This pensive, logy movie veers occasionally into magic realism: a couple (Tim Curry and Monica Lewis) singing the hymn ‘Love Lifted Me’ when they meet at the bank; a mime who offers Manglehorn a special key to the film’s resolution. The rest, with Pacino in pensive mode as a deposed king of the heart, never reaches the tenderness or intensity of Green’s work with Nicolas Cage in Joe.”
And “that film wasn’t entirely successful either,” argues the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, “but at least its hazy, loping rhythms all felt like part of the same composition. If giving us Hollywood’s wildest actors, tamed, is to be the new chapter in Green’s wildly varied career (indie dramas, studio comedies, stoner romps), it’s not an unwelcome one, but Manglehorn is less a taming than a tranquilizing.”
“If Manglehorn is a mystery, which seems to be Green and screenwriter Paul Logan’s intent, then the film hasn’t been structured in a way to invite curiosity,” finds Variety‘s Peter Debruge. Manglehorn “has been constructed as a composite of past Pacino characters—mostly the tragic lost soul from Jerry Schatzberg’s underseen Scarecrow, though there are nods to others, from Serpico’s earrings to Scarface’s ‘the world is yours.’ He comes with too much baggage for us to start inventing a fresh backstory, which is a shame, since there’s also enough original character detail here to deserve it.”
“The mix of limpid naturalism with lyricism that has often distinguished David Gordon Green’s indie films slides into sentimentality, or worse yet, whimsy,” writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter.
“A bees nest beneath a mailbox. A boat bedecked in copies of a photograph.” Jessica Kiang at the Playlist: “A cat who’s swallowed a key. A mime, a buffet, an earthquake, a multi-vehicle car accident inexplicably strewn with smashed watermelons…. Manglehorn contains all of these motifs and more, sometimes playing out in double exposure, sometimes woozy slow motion, often counterpointed by Al Pacino’s husky gravelly narration. It should all be a terrible mess… But it’s also fascinating, to those of us willing to let its meditative currents take us, a mosaic of moods, mysteries, magic and melancholy.”
“Neither as idiosyncratic as Prince Avalanche, nor solidly clinging to a genre lifeline as Joe, the film ultimately rests upon Pacino’s shoulders,” writes Tommaso Tocci at the Film Stage. “It’s one of the better performances in the last few years for the legendary actor—restrained, pissed off and spaced out at the same time—but similarly to his turn in Barry Levinson’s The Humbling, it doesn’t make up for the film’s shortcomings.”
For Catherine Bray at HitFix, “it’s frankly a relief to see Pacino remind us that he’s still capable of holding our attention for the right reasons with a performance that, while it doesn’t rival his powerhouse era, is compelling and well-judged.”
“Pacino gives his most natural performance in years,” agrees Time Out‘s Cath Clarke. “Now, someone give the man a more decent film than this.”
Update, 8/31: “This is not a film specifically about religion, but never have the themes of faith and spirituality been so prominent in Green’s work,” writes Adam Woodward for Little White Lies. “As with Prince Avalanche, Manglehorn bridges Green’s previous material by marrying the lyricism of his early films George Washington and All the Real Girls with the sucker-punch comedic timing of Pineapple Express (a line about a racehorse raised the roof here)…. Manglehorn is a significant step up. Coupled with regular Green collaborator Tim Orr’s resplendent cinematography and a wonderfully understated score by Texan post-rockers Explosions in the Sky (who also scored Prince Avalanche), this is the director’s most accomplished and life-affirming dramatic work to date.”
Updates, 9/1: “Is it really believable that Manglehorn takes his fluffy cat on walks and fishing with him?” asks Tom Christie at Thompson on Hollywood. “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 unsurprise. Is the last scene really believable—would anyone do that? You be the judge but I vote ‘no, not really.'”
Sight & Sound editor Nick James: “I think I may have witnessed the last gasp of American theatrical symbolism when, after Manglehorn (a 70-year-old man) has beaten him up for offering him one of his girls, Korine’s character shouts to the sky, ‘Why do you hate the world so much, coach. Why do you hate the world?'”
“Lambently shot, edited at times with a Joycean free-associativeness, it’s like Green’s best early work,” finds the Financial Times‘ Nigel Andrews. “For extra value, Holly Hunter has a poignant, beautifully played cameo as another victim of love’s disenchantments.”
Wendy Mitchell talks with Green for Screen Daily.
Updates, 9/2: “While the screenplay and the acting are a perfect mix of subtlety and drama, David Gordon Green’s direction brings the film down a couple of notches,” writes Ambrož Pivk for the International Cinephile Society. “But while Green doesn’t really let the film breathe, he doesn’t suffocate it, and his take on this rather standard story is charming and refreshing.”
At the TheWrap, Alonso Duralde is more upbeat on Green: “There is change and growth and progress in Manglehorn, but none of it follows the expected beats and rhythms that we’ve come to expect from mainstream Hollywood. Green operates in a smarter mode of storytelling, giving the audience the benefit of the doubt that they’ll notice the details, and he’s clearly whispered Pacino into giving a nuanced and human-sized turn.”
Update, 9/5: “The dreamlike haziness is in keeping with Manglehorn’s ever-distorting perception,” writes Jose Teordoro for Cinema Scope. “The two-hander in which Pacino and Hunter go on a disaster-date to some geriatric cafeteria is amazing.”
Update, 9/7: “Manglehorn, instead of being homespun and heartfelt, is stiff and corny and, occasionally, howl-inducing,” writes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek.
Update, 9/8: Big profile in this week’s New Yorker from John Lahr: “As an actor, Pacino has always been unafraid to do what he needs to in order to be in the moment; he trusts his instincts and explodes with whatever feelings come up. Performing, for him, is not so much a profession as a destiny.”
Updates, 9/9: “Green is attracted to those who seem resigned to tired lives, but only as a symbol for why we must struggle against resignation,” writes Tomas Hachard at the House Next Door.
“Green demonstrates no control over his star, who dodders through the movie in a sleepy daze,” finds A.A. Dowd at the AV Club. “Sonically and visually, the movie is a mess; dramatically, it’s barely a movie at all—an aimless character study with no grip on its character.”
Update, 9/10: “I find myself wanting to stick up for Manglehorn a little bit, even though it’s really not very good,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “Pacino’s attention to detail here is formidable… Manglehorn’s tentative courtship of a friendly bank clerk (Holly Hunter) hits the right tender notes, and scenes of the man at work, helping mothers whose kids have locked themselves in cars and so forth, are persuasively low-key. One startling sequence is a slo-mo homage to Godard’s Weekend, of all things.” But: “What starts out as an offbeat character study devolves into a facile redemption narrative.”
Update, 9/15: For RogerEbert.com, Sam Fragoso talks with Green and Pacino.