In a scene towards the latter half of Stand Up Guys, Al Pacino's character, Val, goes into a church confessional. When asked by the priest to confess his sins since the last time (60 some years ago), Val laughs and instead says, we haven't got all day.
I too, have a confession to make. I have an unhealthy love and admiration for Al Pacino having first seen him in Godfather III at the age of 11 (I had seen this film prior to having seen the first two installments...yes it was the weakest of the three, but seen in the order in which I did, this film and his performance in it left an indelible mark on me). Following that film - and in an age prior to Netflix or online streaming - I went on a quest to own every one of his films. From the better known, like Scarface or Serpico, to the hard-to-find like Bobby Deerfield or Chinese Coffee. I can remember the exact moment in time that I finally found Looking For Richard and The Panic in Needle Park - the two films I needed to complete my Pacino filmography - within the same week.
It is mostly because of him that I developed a passion for film, which has led me to this dream job as a film critic and writer. Sure Pacino has had more than a few absolute duds - Revolution, 88 Minutes, Gigli and S1m0ne come to mind - but his best work over the past decade or so has been on the small screen (perhaps his best performance of all time came as Roy Cohn in the 2004 HBO mini-series Angels in America, a role which won him a Primetime Emmy, as did his performance as Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the TV movie You Don't Know Jack in 2010).
But back to Stand Up Guys, which stars Pacino alongside other aging film icons, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin (and we'll throw accomplished character actor Mark Margolis into this "aging film icon" grouping). In my (totally unbiased...) opinion, this film marks Pacino's best work on the big screen since his role in 1997's Donnie Brasco. I would know.
Perhaps it is because he is finally given some fresh material in which to work with. Stand Up Guys is written by newcomer Noah Haidle, with a story set within the tired and familiar world of the mob. It's directed by Fisher Stevens - only his 2nd feature film - who I remember most as an actor, as the human sidekick Ben to the cheesy 80s robot Johnny Five in Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2.
Yes, Stand Up Guys is about old people. But told by two younger men - Haidle and Stevens - they come bursting onto the scene without the restraints of dust or rust that too much experience can bring.
As mentioned, Pacino plays Val and at the beginning of the film, he is getting out of prison after a 28 year sentence. There to greet him is his old crime pal Doc (Walken). As we learn in the film, Doc has been sent to kill Val, who was made to suffer out his entire prison sentence as a form of twisted punishment by mob boss Claphands (Margolis). Doc has until 10 a.m. the next morning to do the deed and deliver Val's body, or else. That gives the duo just under 24 hours to re-live their youth, or simply live out their present.
Val is ever aware of what's going on, so he decides to grab life by the horns. Over the course of this one day, they hit up a whore house and then wind up knocking over a pharmacy (yes, there are more than one Viagra jokes in this film...comes with the territory). They go pick-up (rescue?) their old "driver" Hirsch (Arkin), who takes "one more hit" off of his oxygen machine before escaping out of his retirement community at night. They steal cars, get into all sorts of trouble and try to make the most of the short time they have left. No wonder Pacino ends up in a confessional.
But his comment to the priest, that "we haven't got all day," is told as a joke, but it resonates as the underlying message of the film. There are moments of unbelievability and the cops seem to only show up when convenient to this trio's adventures, but there is a lot of heart anchored in the power of watching these iconic actors share the screen for the first time.
Stand Up Guys is the absolute mobster fantasy, because, how else does the life of a wise guy end up? We've seen countless mob and gangster movies, and it always ends badly. We've seen countless criminals thrown in jail, some who "snitch" and some who remain "loyal" by never breaking their word and ratting out their fellow mob guys. But what happens to these guys way down the line, when they are old men and at the end of their sentence? From the mob guy's perspective, what would be the ultimate end?
This film acts as fantasy in this sense, the ultimate wish-fulfillment for any low-level street thug looking to work their way up through the "family." Stand Up Guys carries with it these mobster familiarities - the importance of real family versus created family, or morally right versus socially wrong, of honor and integrity - but it cleverly spins it.
Here's a film that's entertaining and thoughtful, starring three powerhouse actors performing right in their wheelhouses. It carries with it effective messages and life lessons with each character putting his own future on the line for the sake of family, trusting in the ideal that life is what we make of it...at any age.
Did I mention Pacino was really good in it?
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Run Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Christopher Walken, Julianna Margulies
Written by Noah Haidle
Directed by Fisher Stevens (Just a Kiss)
Opens locally on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time