David Gordon Green has been trying to remake Dario Argento’s Suspiria for a number of years now. Last year he announced that the seven-year-old project wasn’t dead, as previously thought, but that he would produce and he was looking for a director to take on the work. Watching his recent drama Manglehorn with that in mind proves to be an interesting experience, for in Manglehorn Green experiments with certain visual techniques that are synonymous with cult horror, particularly giallo: heavy colour saturation, strange lysergic dream sequences and acid-y overlays abound, and in light of his decision to pass on directorial duties for Suspiria you could argue that Green was working something out of his system here. The input of long-term DP collaborator Tim Orr is key. In an interview last year Orr explained they were going for a striking colour palette – neon pinks, bright yellows and pastels – and although he cites Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives as a major influence there are brief moments where Green’s latest clearly resembles cheaply-made psychedelic horror from the 1970s. It’s completely at odds with the setting and the story, a simple tale about a Texan locksmith who can’t forget about the woman he once loved and who struggles to maintain a relationship with his high-flying financier son. However it does at least indicate that Green is taking the post-Malickian style for which he has become known into new, and interesting, places, even if the subject matter doesn’t quite fit; these sudden garish interludes are the highlights of the film.
Al Pacino stars as AJ Manglehorn, a grumpy (perhaps depressed) old man who is attached to his cat and not much else, though he has taken a shine to Holly Hunter’s kind bank teller Dawn. Manglehorn’s fug seems to have enveloped him for a number of reasons: he writes and posts letters to his long-lost love but they come back with ‘return to sender’ stamps, he has a strained relationship with his son (Chris Messina), his cat is seriously ill and his daily routine of helping people who have locked themselves out of their houses and vehicles has begun to take its toll. The screenplay initially had Manglehorn down as an ex-con, which would provide a valid (if entirely predictable) reason for his safecracking/lock-picking skills, but Green left all of the scenes referring to this background on the cutting room floor, and instead we only get references to AJ’s earlier career as a high school football coach (delivered by a bombed-out owner of a tanning salon/massage parlour/brothel played by Harmony Korine). Not a great deal happens as Manglehorn attempts to move on with his life but, as mentioned above, it’s a film that leans heavily on visual trickery to create an off-kilter, out-of-place mood, and part of the pleasure is revelling in this dreamlike, otherworldly state, through which Pacino staggers appropriately. The actor dials down his usual level of scenery-chewing here but somehow still manages to overact – he’s always doing or saying something to command your attention – but at least all the fiddling with his hands reveals the character’s uneasy inner state, and when all is said and done he still has a voice that’s a treat to listen to. Manglehorn‘s hampered by the fact that all of writer Paul Logan’s characters seem to have been taken from entirely different stories before being lumped together here, and it’s thin on plot, but it’s interesting to see Pacino stretch himself by appearing in a film that’s a little more experimental than usual. There’s also a cool avant-garde soundtrack collaboration between David Wingo and Explosions In The Sky.
Directed by: David Gordon Green.
Written by: Paul Logan.
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina.
Cinematography: Tim Orr.
Editing: Colin Patton.
Music: David Wingo, Explosions In The Sky.
Running Time: 95 minutes.