The Humbling: Al Pacino’s ‘most honest’ performance in years

24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Humbling’ gives Pacino one last chance to roar.

Al Pacino has been acting for nearly half a century and during that time, he says he’s never really considered what other job he might be suited for — until now.We have forgotten how subtle Al Pacino could be, pre “Hoo Hah!” Something about his Oscar winning turn in “Scent of a Woman” unleashed the beast, a performer as big, broad and puffed up as that mountain of hair he keeps teased about his head. So it’s a bit of a jolt to see him as Simon Axler, a famous, fading stage and screen actor who is losing his grip and his ability to stay on script in “The Humbling.” He rarely allows Simon the Pacino bellow, rarely cranks up the heat and the volume as Simon shambles offstage, his career seemingly at an end. Pacino played an ex-con who works in a diner in the 1991 film Frankie and Johnny, which was shot in a working eatery. “‘I could do this, be a short-order cook,’” he remembers thinking at the time.

Barry Levinson’s film, based on a Buck Henry (“Heaven Can Wait”) adaptation of a Philip Roth novel, shambles along the way Simon does, with witty, coherent stretches and droning theatrical self-absorption that’s as dull as a sleepwalk through Shakespeare. He says that on the diner shoot, his celebrity status gained him “access.” “These guys would just let me sit in the luncheonette,” Pacino says. “I’d be with them through the lunches and I would study them by just doing it and watching, waiting and hoping I’d absorb something.” So begins an affair with this much younger woman, and more humiliations, great and small, that pile up around Simon like kindling needed for burning him at the stake. It’s a navel gazing movie with far too much of Pacino, even at his wittiest, chatting to Baker via computer screen, or bantering with Gerwig, queen of the mumblecore comedy. And the snatches of his stage performances are dreadfully dull, draining the life out of Shakespeare by destroying context and Method Acting the lines to death.

But “The Humbling” should have been more brisk, should have been cut, and should have had more of the Pacino who finishes this thing off with a flourish.

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