The Humbling (Blu-ray Review)

The HumblingBased on Phillip Roth s final novel, The Humbling tells the story of over-the-hill stage actor Simon Axler (Al Pacino) and his struggles to find his passion for life again. Near his breaking point, he finds motivation in the form of a young and lustful lesbian Pegeen Stapleford (Greta Gerwig), but as their relationship heats up Simon has a hard time keeping up with the youthful Pegeen. The Humbling is directed by Barry Levinson and also stars Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin, Dianne Wiest and Nina Arianda.  


The Humbling


Simon Axler (Al Pacino), who was once a great and in-demand actor, has now reached the pinnacle of his once great career and gone on the theater circuit doing Shakespeare. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing Shakespeare but it doesn’t pay as much as some awful film or horrid commercial would but it does liven up and sooth the soul. For Axler everyday is an adventure in that he has to navigate critics, production and security staff that lock him out of his own plays, to the young and cynical audience who would rather stare into their phones that watch him perform on stage. It’s during that moment of self-reflection that Simon takes a leap off of the stage and onto the floor.

After spending a month at a mental institution for what was initially called a “suicide” attempt Simon has sort of seen the error of his ways and retreated to the solace that is his private life. Granted, it’s not a smooth transition since he keeps on getting pestered by a patient he met there who is hell bent on eating Simon to murder her husband. Simon will have no part of it and moves on. Enter Greta Gerwig as Pegeen, the daughter of one of his friends, who has had a crush on him since she was younger.

To say that hijinks will ensue would be an understatement. Pegeen has her own issues and drama. She is a lesbian who leaves a trail of broken female hearts where she goes and wants Simon as her new lover-surrogate father figure. That’s where things get iffy but not from Simon’s point of view. He’s just running through the motions of trying to move on with his life and Pegeen has sort of complicated things, because she moves at a more brisk pace than he does.

Pegeen, on the surface, comes off as a very independent person, working professional, etc., but has no problem with the monetary gifts and clothing she seems to be syphoning from Simon. Simon doesn’t really mind, because he’s still trying to take it all in. Here’s a pretty girl who is 45-50 years her junior that is attracted to him. The rub is that is this affection real or a delusion from Simon’s fractured psyche?

I really enjoyed Al Pacino’s eccentric and natural performance and Greta…well, she’s still Greta. She doesn’t necessarily set the world on fire in this but she’s a good enough anchor for the film. She did get on my nerves a bit, because there are times when she’s clearly taking advantage of Simon’s character then gets defensive and has to qualify herself as to why she’s not really taking advantage of him even though she is. The Humbling is a very tug-and-pull kind of flick. Barry Levinson directed it (Rain Man) but I did not appreciate the shaky-cam used. Granted, it did go along with Simon’s “shaky” view of the world but still. The Humbling is a decent enough flick, with a good performance by Pacino.


The Humbling


Encoding: AVC/MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: The Humbling on Blu-ray looks as clear and entailed as it can. Contrast and sharpness levels do not appear to have been tinkered with.

Depth: I really enjoy the outdoor scenes around Axler’s property. The level of depth out in the woods was great and it made you feel as a wild animal or annoying fan could get the jump on you at any given time.

Black Levels: There are many scenes; interior and exteriors, where the black levels shine through without any instances of crush or compression artifacts.

Color Reproduction: The color palette is very stable and free from banding, pixilation, etc.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are even and pore detail is right where it should be.

Noise/Artifacts: Noise, artifacts, debris, hairs, etc., were all absent. Anomalies were kept to a very bare minimum.


The Humbling


Audio Format(s): English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: The Humbling on Blu-ray is a very low-key affair in that it is kept in check by the material. The film’s sound design doesn’t have all the bells and whistles one may want or expect when it comes to a drama of this nature. It’s an above average presentation brought to life via a very nice Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless track.

Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel was present only once and a while. It’s not that kind film, but some low-end bass enhanced certain hits or thuds of people falling.

Surround Sound Presentation: Ambience and audience levels were handled might well by the rear channels keeping them from bleeding into the front. The scenes of Axler outside of his home and in the vast woods behind were the best. You can hear the wildlife creeping about.

Dialogue Reproduction: The Humbling is dialogue driven film all the way; therefore, dialogue reproduction is crystal clear even during Axler’s rants and ravings. This also helps with his scenes up on the stage during various performances.


The Humbling


The Humbling could have benefitted by some hearty supplemental features but all we get is a very short making-of featurette, a trailer, and trailers for other Millennium films.

  • Making-of Featurette (HD) – This making-of featurette runs just under 4 minutes and the cast briefly talk about the film and working with director Barry Levinson.
  • Trailer (HD) – The theatrical trailer for The Humbling is presented in high definition.


The Humbling


The Humbling was an interesting exercise in psychosis and really blurred the edge of fantasy and reality. The film moves at a brisk pace and features one of Al Pacino’s better performances in a while. Greta Gerwig is average opposite him but the rest of the supporting do a bit better. The technical specifications on this Blu-ray are more than adequate but the lack of special features drags the overall score way down. If you’re at all curious about a Pacino/Levinson team-up then The Humbling is mildly recommended.


The Humbling is released on Blu-ray March 3rd!




The Humbling


Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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