Blu-ray Review: Manglehorn

By , Contributor
Manglehorn, new to Blu-ray from MPI Media Group, showcases a finely-tuned performance by Al Pacino in the title role. Directed by David Gordon Green (George Washington, Joe) from a screenplay by Paul Logan (his debut feature-length script), Manglehorn is genuinely difficult to pin down. The main reason it comes recommended is for Pacino's masterfully restrained performance as locksmith A.J. Manglehorn. He invests A.J.'s every gesture with a world-weary gravity that deepens what is a rather meandering story. A.J. has a beloved cat and that cat is ailing for reasons initially unknown. He'll talk about his cat, but that's about the only present-day issue that concerns A.J.

Director Green wisely focuses on making the most of the odder moments. A.J. seems to be drifting through his life, almost disembodied from reality. Outside of answering random calls to help customers who've locked themselves out of vehicles, all he does is ruminate on a failed relationship from many years ago. His middle-aged son Jacob (Chris Messina) is a successful investment guru of some kind, but A.J. confesses to having never loved his son's mother. The fabled 'one who got away,' whom we hear a lot about without ever meeting, looms large in A.J.'s psyche. In fact, a dinner date with his favorite bank teller, Dawn (Holly Hunter), devolves into a self-serving monologue about A.J.'s idealizing of this apparently perfect (but mysterious) woman.

What keeps Manglehorn from being stifled by the weight of what feels at times like dramatic inertia is a series of tantalizing flashes of surrealism. The mundanity of A.J.'s daily life is punctuated by a series of bizarre occurrences: an apparent earthquake to which A.J. doesn't react, a horrific multi-car pileup involving a ton of watermelons (a visual nod to Godard's Weekend), and other similarly bizarre events. Courtesy of Gary (Harmony Korine), a now-grown former member of the Little League team A.J. once coached, we hear a story that suggests these weird moments have followed A.J. around for his whole life. What's the deal with this A.J. Manglehorn? Is he touched by some form of vaguely supernatural grace? The fact that Green doesn't attempt to definitely answer those questions is one of the strengths of his film.

MPI's Blu-ray offers a reasonably strong presentation of Tim Orr's cinematography (though the black levels could be stronger; fades to black are more like fades to gray). The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix offers perfectly intelligible dialogue and a showcase for an interesting score by band Explosions in the Sky and frequent David Gordon Green collaborator David Wingo. There are no special features, outside of a theatrical trailer. A director's and/or writer's commentary could've been potentially illuminating.

As it stands, we can only draw our own conclusions about Manglehorn, an imperfect film to be sure (we could've stood to learn more about A.J.'s son Jacob and their relationship; outside of bonding over their love of their pets, the spark between A.J. and Dawn is ill-defined), but one that is nonetheless worth seeing.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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