*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One thing about Fisher Stevens' "Stand Up Guys" is that how lonely, not
only the primary characters are, but also how the locations are. Take
for example, a simple scene where Val (Pacino) and Doc (Walken) walk
down the barren street in the middle of the night, as if both represent
a bygone era.
Not long after Val is released from prison, one of his two only friends, Doc, greets him at the prison gates. Doc actually is hired by an old employer to kill Val out of revenge, but Doc cannot bring himself to, even long after Val discover the plot. Surprisingly Val is content with it, but Doc isn't; this tension tests and strengthens their friendship further as the deadline becomes closer.
What ensues is a fun romp through the city, along with the last of the trio, Hirsch (Alan Arkin), involving brothels, car chases, bars, beating up punks and breaking into stores, "just like the good ol' days", Hirsch says. "But it's better now, since we can appreciate it," retorts Val. It might all seem silly and out of place, but it fits the characters, and it supports the notion that they want to go out with style, instead of dying broken and alone in some old folks' home. Just like the good ol' days, one last time.
Al Pacino is a magnificent actor, amongst the greatest ever. He isn't called a legend without reason. In this film, performing at his best in a long time, he embodies Val's solitude and longing for companionship perfectly. Here, in one scene after crudely remarking a young woman in a bar, since it's his first night out of prison, his body language and tone changes in his apology, his eyes become more focused. His gravel voice speaks in a somber tone, of the years that have passed, of missed opportunities, of lost friends and loved ones. "I just, wanna dance", he says, longing for the passion of a woman's beauty. The seemingly perverted old man has disappeared completely into this haunted soul of a human being.
Complementing Pacino's performance is Christopher Walken as Doc, also gifted, also great here. Doc paints for a living, and he is subtly in joy to be hanging out with his best pal before the deadline ends - and he is personally conflicted, not just with killing Val, but with his own personal demons. In a diner, Val and Doc discuss their predicament, Val sees right through him, Doc coolly tries to deny it, although there's no denying his facial and vocal expressions which say otherwise. A later scene in the movie briefly showcases Walken's underrated talent in playing vulnerable, broken characters.
Alan Arkin rounds up the Wild Bunch, his presence smoothens the tension between Val and Doc in a light-hearted, humorous way. He is more than eager to leave the nursing home once Val and Doc arrive, and he shows he 's still got it after eluding the police in wild car chase. Hirsch looks at life in a "whatever happens" manner, and Arkin hilariously does very good with his underscored performance of an adrenaline junkie who longs for a rush.
This is a good film, but it's not a great film. Fisher Stevens directs the film with ease, allowing the actors to have a blast and come out guns blazing while they dance around Noah Haidle's sorta-typical screenplay. I doubt that the film would be better if they were to cast younger and more dashing actors in the role - it just wouldn't work. Steven's handling of the progression between the serious and the silly (A "They Live" reference? Really?) doesn't quite gel together, and the ending, it would seem, is too gung-ho for a movie which builds up dramatic tension. Nevertheless, I would suspect that that's how Val and Doc would love to end it all - with a bang. Bon Jovi's solemn song "Not Running Anymore" perfectly sums up the movie's atmosphere.
Good, solid dramedy with a crime setting. This movie is not for everyone though. For a few generations, Pacino and Walken are iconic for being tough, gangster-like criminals who doesn't take crap from anyone. See this if you want to see them reveal their true depths as actors and show bits of how good they can really be.
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