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Barry Levinson and Al Pacino team up for Philip Roth's 'The Humbling'

Barry Levinson's office confirmed yesterday that his next production would be an adaptation of Philip Roth's "The Humbling," his 2009 novel about an aging actor with failing gifts whose affair with a much younger woman lifts him out of depression. Buck Henry, Michal Zebede and Levinson wrote the script.

Roth's fiction has challenged (and defeated) moviemakers for decades. "Goodbye, Columbus" (1969) was memorable mostly because of dialogue lifted straight from the book and the clever casting of Richard Benjamin and (in her first movie) Ali McGraw. "Portnoy's Complaint" (1972) was a disaster. "The Human Stain" (2003) delivered a genuine sad sting but was under-energized and modest to a fault. "Elegy" (2008), based on Roth's "The Dying Animal," was the best of them (see trailer above) -- an unusually spacious and well-populated chamber drama. But it suffered from the near-fatal miscasting of Ben Kingsley as a sexually charismatic critic and minor cultural celebrity.

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Levinson may pull his adaptation of "The Humbling" because his dramatic and comedic range as a filmmaker rivals Roth's as a novelist. "The Humbling" has its grim side. But when I spoke to Levinson about it a few months ago, he told me that part of what attracted him to it was its humor.

The lead role of an actor who goes into a tailspin after he bombs as Prospero and Macbeth at the Kennedy Center should be ideal for Pacino.

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Yes, in Roth's book, the actor's creative disaster occurs at the Kennedy Center (though the main action is set in upstate New York). I doubt we'll see Levinson shooting in his home region again for that one flashback scene. But as Jake said in "The Sun Also Rises," "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

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