VOD film review: The Last Act (The Humbling)
James R | On 30, May 2015
Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Al Pacino, Greta Gerwig
Watch The Last Act online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Rakuten TV / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“All the world’s a stage,” an old actor mumbles to himself, while staring into a mirror. “But do I believe it?” he adds, arguing with his reflection. It’s hard to imagine a more self-absorbed start to a film. In that sense, at least, The Last Act doesn’t disappoint.
Al Pacino plays Simon Axler, a star whose light faded years ago, and is beginning to realise it. A bit like Birdman. And so he has a nervous breakdown while trying to put on a play. A bit like Birdman. Unlike Birdman, though, he gets put in a sanitarium, only to emerge the other side with a younger, lesbian girlfriend.
That’s Pegeen (Gerwig), the daughter of friends who used to fancy him when she was a teenager. Their relationship is never explained much beyond that – not is her sudden decision to sleep with a man, despite being gay. Instead, she becomes a symptom of his mid-life crisis; a crutch for his waning libido.
As their relationship continues, we are introduced to other characters, such as Prince, Pegeen’s former, transgender lover, and Carol, her disapproving mother (Dianne Wiest). All of them are barely sketched-in stereotypes, though, as the focus remains on Pacino’s deluded actor. And with him going through the familiar old-man-young-woman motions without much depth, there is limited pickings for interest or intrigue. The only other entertainment on offer comes from Sybil (Nina Arianda), a one-note mental patient obsessed with hiring him to kill her husband – a joke that wears thin.
The script, based on Philip Roth’s The Humbling by Michal Zebede and Buck Henry, wanders between such unsubtle comedy and attempted relationship drama with a perpetually uneven tone, as everything becomes a series of shallow moons orbiting Planet Pacino. Director Barry Levinson’s missteps as he mines the familiar, unbalanced actor textbook are only highlighted by the parallels with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s superior Oscar winner – one scene even sees Axler locked out of the theatre, having to re-enter through the front mid-performance.
Fortunately, though, Levinson’s Birdman is played by an Al unlike the shouty A-lister we have come to know in recent years. When standing on stage, staring at an empty matinee crowd, or toppling off it into the orchestra pit, he produces moments of fascination and genuine remorse – one monologue in a therapy session is a highlight, as is his humbling wheeze of redundancy when the subject of sex comes up. But these prove as fleeting as the existence Shakespeare’s opening soliloquy speaks of. Between the second childishness and melancholic speeches, this strange eventful history winds up sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.