‘Stand Up Guys’ directed by Fisher Stevens is an old man’s buddy movie. It’s premise is engaging and its acting is as good as it gets. The issue here is that the script of the film delves into over-character development. When that happens, the film can drag and the proceedings can get boring. In its favor though, it’s tough to not be engrossed when Al Pacino and Christopher Walken are the actors. But even they have limits.
The story begins with Valentine, a.k.a Val (Al Pacino), being released from prison after serving twenty-eight years for refusing to give up one of his close criminal associates. His best friend Doc (Christopher Walken) is there to pick him up, and the two soon re-team with another old pal, Hirsch (Alan Arkin). Their bond is as strong as ever, and the three reflect on freedom lost and gained, loyalties ebbed and flowed, and days of glory gone by. But one of the friends is keeping a dangerous secret- he’s been put in an impossible quandary by a former mob boss, and his time to find an acceptable alternative is running out. As the sun rises on the guys’ legendary reunion, their position becomes more and more desperate and they finally confront their past once and for all.
For Fisher Stevens, the task of directing this film was as close as to just letting the camera run. When you have a trio of actors who have 14 acting nominations and 3 Oscar wins between them, the job is straightforward. Consequently, the script by Noah Haidle should have been where most of the creative investment took place. It didn’t feel like it. It caves to a limp pace and some formulaic storytelling. What could have been a special project in modern movie history, turned out to be a side note in the calendar year. Marketing also has played a role in it, but that is a whole other conversation.
In the acting department, Pacino leaves behind the “woo-ha!” parody of himself from ‘Scent of a Woman’ and gives us one of his most honest performances since Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’ from 1999. That’s a whopping 14 years without wowing his audience. How could he when he’s appeared in two of the worst movies in history – ‘Gigli’ and ‘Jack & Jill’. Whether he became a mercenary or deluded into thinking these projects were “fun”, there is no denying that in ‘Stand Up Guys’ he departs from the reckless decisions that led him down the path of negligence. Here he reminds critics and audiences alike of his natural talents of who he was and what he can still be at 73. Robert De Niro is proving it with ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. I think Pacino has 1 or 2 Oscar nominations still left in him, let’s see if he chooses wisely in the time ahead.
Walken is the scene-stealer here though, seemingly not saying or doing much at all. Pacino carries the heft of the dialogue while Walken mostly reacts, and he still shines, perhaps even more than Pacino himself. Walken is a strange and unique looking individual with a demeanor that is distinctive and memorable. He lays it all in the film and it is impressive. For Arkin, his screen time was epigrammatic – concise, clever, and amusing.
Overall, ‘Stand Up Guys’ is an actors film for people who like acting. The entertainment value is mediocre and Stevens could have done so much more with the script. I wouldn’t pay money to see this in the theaters, but a view on Bluray wouldn’t hurt just for the acting. Released for Oscar consideration in December of 2012, it is being rolled out now in February on a national release with the objective of perhaps finding a new audience. Hopefully we can see an improved sequel of sorts when the other hitmen – Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery – join in on the fun!