The Humbling Blu-ray Review
Simon Axler sits backstage in front of the mirror, reciting his lines and applying eyeliner. The soliloquy turns into a dialogue, with Simon debating with himself whether the delivery was honest. It’s five minutes until curtain. Simon takes a wrong turn and winds up in the lobby, where he’s told the play has already started. It’s a recurring nightmare for Simon, who has spet many, many years in theater.
On stage, Simon (Al Pacino, who recently earned Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for his turn in PHIL SPECTOR) stands in front of the crowd, struggling to get through his lines. When it gets to be too much, he collapses. In the hospital, he says he’ll never go on stage again. At home, he considers suicide by shotgun, but can’t go through with it because his arms aren’t long enough.
As Simon reflects on his career and the fall, he’s reintroduced to Pegeen (Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach’s FRANCES HA), who he knew as a child as the daughter of two fellow actors (Dan Hedaya, who appeared on the short-lived CBS series GOLDEN BOY, and Dianne Wiest, in her first movie since THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN). He also encounters Louise Trenner (Kyra Sedgwick, 2012’s THE POSSESSION), the lover of Pegeen.
These meetings and relationships don’t amount to much and some are just awkward: When he first meets Louise, he dramatically declares that she is beautiful and that he is just an old man. The delivery might be meant to show how hard it is for Simon to shake his theatrical habits, but it only makes him seem mildly insane.
This is a story that doesn’t require so many characters—especially ones that don’t add much to the story. Too much of the running time involves the forced scenarios with Simon and Pegeen, and there is a wasteful subplot involving a patient named Sybil (Nina Arianda, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY), who believes that Simon is actually one of his characters. (This could be to demonstrate just what sort of affect Simon’s craft has had, but it’s not elaborated on and so comes off as a flat inclusion.)
THE HUMBLING is an oddly paced, structured and developed movie. It is directed by Barry Levinson (whose wonderful filmography includes 1982’s DINER, 1988’s RAIN MAN and 1997’s WAG THE DOG) and adapted from Philip Roth’s 2009 novel of the same name by legend Buck Henry and Michal Zebede. The writers give Pacino some fitting monologues (namely the one delivered during his first meeting at a psychiatric hospital), but more often than not, the dialogue lacks the depth they, the director and star must have thought it had.
This is the sort of movie that should complement this stage of Pacino’s career, which is now in its fifth decade, but it amounts to little more than a dud. THE HUMBLING screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
Video: 2.39:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. The video transfer has fine details, but an overall soft and dimensionless image.
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Subtitles in English and Spanish. The dialogue is clean and the audio comes through without major issues.
“Making Of” Featurette (3:43): Al Pacino, Greta Gerwig and director Barry Levinson discuss the plot and themes of THE HUMBLING.