One of the most special things about this year’s Toronto Film Festival, which wrapped up earlier this week, was seeing Al Pacino in top form in not one but two special presentations screenings. The first, which I’ve already written about, was Barry Levinson‘s The Humbling, and the second, which took me a little longer to catch up with, was David Gordon Green‘s Manglehorn.
It goes without saying that the 74-year-old is one of the greatest actors in the world. Just think about the highlights of his film canon: The Godfather (1972), Serpico (1973), The Godfather, Part II (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), …And Justice for All (1979), Scarface (1983), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Scent of a Woman (1992) and The Insider (1999). But, as you may have noticed, there haven’t been many additions to that list in recent years.
I’ve often wondered if this is because Pacino stopped pushing himself or stopped being offered vehicles in which pushing himself would make a difference. I don’t know the answer to that. But in these two films, both directed by interesting filmmakers working with very low budgets but quality scripts, he was offered meaty material and he made the most of it. That’s why it’s a particular bummer that neither has found U.S. distribution yet. (Should that change for one film or both, I think the actor could see some recognition at the Gotham Awards or Independent Spirit Awards.)
In Manglehorn, Pacino plays A.J. Manglehorn, a character who is as I imagine Dana Andrews‘ character in 1944’s Laura would be 40 years later if — spoiler alert — Laura hadn’t turned up again. In this case, Laura is Clara, a woman Manglehorn loved and lost years earlier but whose absence has kept him from functioning outside of his job as a suburban locksmith.
Once a great little league baseball coach (according to fawning former player Harmony Korine), if not a great father to his son, Manglehorn is now a sporadic gambler and drunk who is prone to rages and just plain selfishness. He is unable to maintain a relationship with his now-grown son (Chris Messina), who has become a snob and a prick. And he is unable to maintain a relationship with the local bank teller he has long flirted with (Oscar winner Holly Hunter), who is very into him but to whom he behaves incredibly inconsiderately. He doesn’t know what he wants — even though it’s quite clear to anyone else that what he needs is to connect with another person.
This film, which is drawn from the first screenplay of Paul Logan that has been produced, is never predictable and is always provocative. Manglehorn, the locksmith, can’t unlock the key to his own life. In fact, his own key ends up in the stomach of his cat. We find him, in various scenes, daring a hive of bees to sting him rather than removing the hive from his mailbox, sitting high up in a tree with his cat and chastising a woman who locked her kid in her car not for that carelessness but for failing to keep her car clean. What do these scenes mean? With a lesser actor than Pacino, one might not care. But one does.