Stand Up Guys (2012)
“They don’t make ’em like they used to.”
Director: Fisher Stevens
Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin
Synopsis: A pair of aging stickup men try to get the old gang back together for one last hurrah before one of the guys takes his last assignment – to kill his comrade.
As he enters his twilight years, screen icon Al Pacino (The Godfather, Serpico) would do well to consider re-inventing himself. Although he’s no longer leading man material, Pacino seems reluctant to relinquish that mantle as he enters his eighth decade, and as a result he’s accepting roles in dreary vehicles like Stand Up Guys, a non-descript character study which one can’t help feeling he would have passed over ten years ago. If he wanted to continue acting without diminishing his status he should have started easing himself into character roles sometime around the end of the 20th Century, but sometimes legends like Pacino don’t have anyone around them willing to raise their head above the parapet long enough to tell them so.
In Stand Up Guys he plays a small time crook called Val, who, on the day that we meet him, is breathing air beyond a prison’s walls for the first time in 28 years. The only person who cares enough to greet him on the outside is his old pal, Doc (Christopher Walken — The Deer Hunter, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead), but Doc has been handed the task with killing Val by mob boss Claphands (Mark Margolis — Scarface). It seems that Claphands’ son was killed while aiding Val in the crime for which he has just finished serving his time, and having allowed Val to languish inside for the best part of three decades he now wants him killed on his first day of freedom. Understandably, Doc is torn between his loyalty to Val and the threat to both his own life and that of his estranged Granddaughter (Addison Timlin — Odd Thomas) if he doesn’t go through with the killing.
A movie like Stand Up Guys demands the tender talents of a writer of experience and insight if it’s to negotiate the pitfalls inherent in any story which is told through the actions and words of its characters rather than the developments of a plot, especially when its lead characters are septuagenarians. However, Stand Up Guys was written by Noah Haidle, a thirty-something playwright whose first feature-length screenplay this is. There’s no doubting that Mr Haidle has talent, but his theatrical background is evident in the wordy script, and he lacks any real insight into just what makes his characters tick. They talk and talk, and for much of the time they simply seem to be talking for the sake of it, even though they have nothing interesting or meaningful to say. Inevitably, this leads to near-fatal problems with the movie’s pacing.
What story there is involves the antics of Val and Doc during the long night prior to the assigned time of Val’s execution. These antics involve visiting a brothel, departing the brothel to steal some Viagra, returning to the brothel, visiting a hospital to receive treatment for an overdose of Viagra, stealing the local crime lords’ muscle car, freeing the emphysema-suffering Hirsch (Alan Arkin — Thin Ice, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) another decrepit former partner in crime, from a retirement home, rescuing a rape victim and enabling her to exact an appropriate revenge upon her attackers, and using a bulldozer to bury Hirsch in a graveyard when he dies of natural causes. That sounds like quite a busy night, doesn’t it? So it’s difficult to see why it all seems so deathly boring. A storyline like that has the potential for anarchic humour, and pathos tinged with melancholy, but Haidle’s screenplay only rarely comes within sight of any of these ideals.
Any movie which features Pacino, Walken and Arkin in sizable roles is worth a look, but their presence is really the only reason to devote valuable time to watching this movie. As always, Arkin acts the boots off his fellow actors, so it’s a shame that he has the smallest role of the three leads. Stand Up Guys is well-acted and competently directed, and even manages a poignant, open-ended finale but, honestly — the longest night never seemed as long as this one…