Of all the fiercely regionalist directors that came out of the US indie explosion in the 00's (the "ruralists", as I like to call them), David Gordon Green has been the most bewildering to me. Much was expected of him after the quiet recognition of the little-seen George Washington. Instead the director seemed to just drift along to be found at the forefront of the post-Apatow bromance comedy with Pineapple Express or Your Highness, while keeping one foot in the small-scale portraiture with Joe or Prince Avalanche, but without ever coming out with what would seem to be a genuine classic.
The strengths and weaknesses of his style are again on show in the peculiar, minor-key Manglehorn, an amiably rambling look at the loneliness of a small-town locksmith without any love in his life - or, more to the point, without any life in his life. Angelo Manglehorn comes across as one of Alexander Payne's singularly lonely, aging curmudgeons looking for love in all the wrong places. Not surprising, that director's highly stylized but affecting Nebraska comes to mind, though Mr. Green's film is a more lyrical take, propelled by DP Tim Orr's over-exposed, colour-saturated phosphorescence and the anthemic score by Explosions In The Sky and David Wingo.
The aim seems to be a sort of small-town Malickiana, underlined by the casting choice of Al Pacino to play Manglehorn, in one of his least mannered, more controlled performances in recent years, where the star embraces his age rather than fight against it. Over the week or so of the film's plot, during which Manglehorn reels from the hospitalization of his trusty cat and engages awkwardly with his estranged son (Chris Messina), a friendly bank teller (Holly Hunter) and a local he once coached in Little League (Harmony Korine), Mr. Pacino composes a lovely, inward-looking performance that has little of his usual show-offiness - more than made up by the day-glo neon sadness of Mr. Green's impressionist superimpositions.
Stylistically, Manglehorn aims at transcendence, despite the slice-of-life sparseness of Paul Logan's slim script and its rather too neat grumbling-grandpa-gets-back-in-shape conclusion. But it's the loose, apparently impromptu connections made between characters and settings - Manglehorn's park outing with his granddaughter, his haunting nocturnal carousing, the way Mr. Pacino perfectly meshes with the actual veterans in the breakfast scene - that make Mr. Green's film worth a look, even if it never really takes off. Transcendence does not come easy.
US, UK, 2014, 97 minutes
Starring Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina
Directed by David Gordon Green; written by Paul Logan; cinematographer Tim Orr (widescreen); music by Explosions In The Sky and David Wingo; production designer Richard A. Wright; costume designer Jill Newell; film editor Colin Patton; produced by Christopher Woodrow, Molly Conners, Lisa Musjat, Mr. Green and Derrick Tseng, for Worldview Entertainment and Muskat Filmed Properties in association with Dreambridge Films, Westend Films and Rough House Pictures
Screened November 7th 2015, Lisbon, distributor screener