I didn’t know that the 2013 aged gangster black comedy “Stand Up Guys” was not generally well-received. It was praised by my local newspaper critic (Mick LaSalle), rightly I think, not just for its grizzled old-timers (Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin), but for the sweetness of the younger women who cross their paths (Addison Timlin, Julianne Margulies, Lucy Punch, and Vanessa Ferlito).
The movie starts with “Doc” (a retired pharmacist played by Christopher Walken) picking up Val[entine] (Pacino) who has just finished serving 28 years in prison following a botched bank robbery in which the only son of a local gang leader, Claphands (Mark Margolis). It is not plot-spoiling to mention that the movie begins and ends with paintings of sunrises in Doc’s time-capsule of an apartment or that Claphands has assigned Doc the task of killing Val on the day of his release (having let him live to serve out his sentence).
If Doc were able to execute his assignment with dispatch, there would be no movie. Val realizes Claphands’s vindictiveness has marked Val for post-prison execution and tries to jam as much pleasure and excitement into his last day and night as he can. Val and Doc go to an all-night diner three times, and Val orders a lot each time (though the movie does not show even one forkful going to his mouth). Similarly, when he is unable to get it up with a prostitute at a long-running house now operated by the daughter of the woman they remember, the two break into a pharmacy and Val swallows a handful (or two) of Viagra.
For added excitement, Doc and Val spring their getaway driver of long ago, Richard Hirsch (Arkin) from a nursing home where he is breathing with the aid of an oxygen tank. Hirsch requires stimulation of adrenaline to keep awake and there is a car chase by police (in a stolen car that belongs to some thugs younger than Claphands) to test whether he can still do his thing.
I (and, I think, most viewers) bring a lot of history of Pacino and Walken playing gangsters to watching this movie (Pacino and Arkin were both salesmen in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but did not interact; Pacino was not even in the office for the infamous Alec Baldwin “Coffee is for closers” rant). Walken reprises anxious ambivalence from earlier roles. Pacino was more often a ganglord (The Godfather, Carlito’s Way) than a low-level gangster (but there was “Donnie Brasco”), and rarely fatalistic… and not that often funny (though I think his raving Roy Cohen in “Angels in America” was an earlier foray into dark comedy, one that won him an Emmy).
One expects Pacino and Walken and Arkin to bring a lot to any role, but there must be some credit due the writer (Noah Haidle) and the director (Fisher Stevens) for the richness of the women’s characters and the humor of the interplay of the old guys with each other and with what has changed (not least keyless ignitions) while Val has been in prison (and Hirsch in a sort of one, not just the nursing home, but grief over the death of his wife of more than forty years).
The DVD has an engaging commentary track by director Stevens (who mentions “Dog Day Afternoon” as one of the influences and doesn’t mention “Cocoon” or “The Bucket List” that I recall), a standard 12-minute making-of featurette, Jon Bon Jovi talking a bit (less than 5 minutes) about his contribution to the mood with his Golden Globe-nominated song “Not Running Anymore” (IMO it contributes much less than the Sam & Dave oldie “When Something’s Wrong with My Baby” spun by DJ Arjun Gupta [underused here, as he is in “Nurse Jackie”]). Plus two deleted scenes, a five-minute featurette on the stunt driving and four trailers for other movies (but not one for this one).
Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 ½ (of a possible four) stars, but otherwise the movie did not fare well outside San Francisco (critically or commercially).
Official website: http://www.standupguysfilm.com/