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MPI Home Video // PG-13 // October 6, 2015
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
"Manglehorn." A quick Google search reveals few to no examples people actually going by this "phrase", yet it's perfect for the grizzled old man played by Al Pacino in director David Gordon Green's new film of the same name. A.J. Manglehorn is a locksmith, a tired and disillusioned old man who whittles away his free time writing letters to Clara, a former lover. Clara looms tall in Manglehorn's memory, but she was not his actual wife, the one with whom he had a son, Jacob (Chris Messina). At some point, his letters started to come back as undeliverable, but that hasn't stopped old Manglehorn, who continues to mail them every week, as if he is delivering his diary to someone else, one page at a time. The actual words comprising "Manglehorn" suggest a choked or damaged instrument, and Manglehorn often acts like one, ending pleasant conversations with people whose company he enjoys on a discordant note, a mood-killing drop of 100-proof cynicism and bitterness. A slightly clunky visual metaphor is seen throughout the film in the form of a beehive attached to the underside of Manglehorn's mailbox: communicating with him may be dangerous.

For awhile, maybe since the credits rolled on 2002's Insomnia (directed by an up-and-coming Christopher Nolan), Al Pacino seemed to be on autopilot as a performer. He was never a workaholic, but couple of mentor figures (The Recruit, Two For the Money), a couple of cops (88 Minutes, The Son of No One), and even a long-awaited team-up that actually put Pacino on-screen next to Robert De Niro (Righteous Kill) formed a line of generic studio projects that asked little of him and got just as much in return. In theory, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that a character like Manglehorn, a hunched-over old man with only a cat for a friend and a penchant for saying the wrong thing, wasn't the kind of role someone as charismatic and cool as Pacino was rushing to consider themselves right for, yet the character's reflections on accepting the times changing feel as if they dovetail with Pacino's. In his letters to Clara, Manglehorn writes about the burden his work places on him and the imposition people place on him, and his decreasing desire to placate them, and Pacino seems to draw on his own weariness and wisdom in imbuing the character with that specific blend of curmudgeonly ambivalence.

Director David Gordon Green is not as old as Pacino, nor is his self-image as ingrained in the public's pop culture consciousness, but he too may be on a road of rediscovery. After a trio of decreasingly successful stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter), Green returned to the quieter character studies that made him an indie darling. He too feels as if he's changed a little in the intervening years: while many of his movies are backwoods stories, set in quaint little towns that feel trapped in time, Manglehorn finds the trappings of the modern world creeping in. Manglehorn's home, with its ornate window bars, wood paneling, and old phonograph record player, is a bit of an oasis, and even his profession of keymaking and locksmithing seem old-fashioned, but the banality of the cafeteria where Manglehorn eats his dinners, with plastic trays and a Coke fountain, is less elegant and timeless. When Manglehorn goes to visit Jacob, he finds him in a sleek modern office building, with the stereotypical glass walls around its conference room.

Green tells the story with ellipses, working with Pacino to get inside the character's head as he drifts through the world. When writing his letters to Clara, there is a poetic nature to his regret, and Green captures these moments with a backdrop of gorgeous visuals, filled with longing fade ins and fade outs, slow pans and lighting on Pacino's face that looks like a sunset, but only Manglehorn can see his inability to let go as romantic. When he eventually recalls some of his most treasured memories in front of another person, the charming bank teller Dawn (Holly Hunter), it actually comes off as punishingly cruel, delivered in a rambling, unending monotone that sounds like defeat. The story of a bitter person coming to terms with the resentment and regret in their twilight years is nothing new, and in the hands of a lesser director and star, it's only too easy to imagine Paul Logan's screenplay being turned into a sappy, sentimental movie. Thankfully, Green knows how to handle an idea such as the heavy symbolism of Manglehorn's keys or that aforementioned beehive and play them so that the eccentricity feels authentic.

For those who demand films have sweeping arcs, big emotional epiphanies, and dazzling conclusions, Manglehorn will probably not fit the bill. Like the character, Manglehorn can be quiet, withdrawn, and unexpectedly sweet, and both Pacino and Green's efforts on it have been scaled to meet the film's needs. When Pacino finally builds up a little of that fiery temper his performances were once known for, it has extra weight thanks to how Pacino has presented the character up to that point, and how Green frames his outbursts. In turn, when the movie allows a little optimism in, when Manglehorn considers releasing the tension that keeps him twisted up inside, it's a wonderful, overwhelming sensation, a modest moment with an incredible weight.

The Blu-ray
Manglehorn arrives on Blu-ray with simple but surprisingly effective artwork. The title treatment mimics the logo that Manglehorn has on his locksmith van, complete with the illustration of a key beneath it, and the image depicts him clutching his beloved cat, with a tiny bit of sunlight creeping in on the side of his face. The colors of the artwork downplay the colors of the movie a little, but it's a surprisingly well-done image that subtly hints at the film's journey while also serving as the usual "just show the star" approach that makes distributors happy. The single-disc release comes in a standard Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Although IFC's Blu-ray of Manglehorn leaves little to be desired in its 2.39:1 1080p AVC video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio presentation, the original cinematography of the movie irks me a little. First off, the film is gorgeous, one of the most visually appealing movies I've seen in a long time. The film starts with natural colors, and for the most part, amps them up just a little bit, giving them a touch of extra pop and vividness coming off the screen. In other sequences, the color schemes employed become more stylized and intense, and that extra element of kick really starts to dazzle, tiptoeing into the kind of extreme pinks and purples that Only God Forgives marinated in. Fine detail is excellent, and contrast is generally very nice, with no crush even in Manglehorn's underlit house. It's a shame, then, that cinematographer Tim Orr and Green have ultimately allowed blatantly digital ghosting to mar the other-worldly beauty of the image, a tactile and technological blemish that psychologically reminds the viewer that those colors and images are artificial. Like the dull crispness of Michael Mann's period settings in Public Enemies, this is an instance when the digital anomalies present in modern moviemaking clash with what the film is doing artistically. That said, the only area in which the disc might be dinged is in a very minor bit of banding during some of the moments when scenes fade out and in.

Sound-wise, Manglehorn lives in a world that he is trying to shut out, a character trait occasionally illustrated by his rambling voice-over entering to cover up others yammering, or sometimes, just so that Manglehorn can convince himself his bitter viewpoint of the world is the correct one. These moments are accentuated with music, including the occasional club sequence when he is accompanied by shifty Gary into seedy locations. All of it sounds very nicely balanced and rich on the disc's HD audio track, which is especially adept at capturing the details and texture of Pacino's voice. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras

Trailers for Closer to the Moon, Match, Welcome to New York, and Seymour: An Introduction play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Manglehorn is also included.

Visually stylish and wonderfully performed, Manglehorn is a small, polished gem of a film. The core of its success rests in the hands of star Al Pacino and director David Gordon Green, whose connection with the material exemplifies "right place, right time" kismet. It's a tragedy that the Blu-ray release doesn't have an audio commentary by Green and / or Pacino or at least some interviews to provide some insight onto their working relationship, but the presentation is strong, and on the strength of the film alone, the disc is highly recommended.

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