Stand Up Guys is a modestly budgeted movie loaded with charm, amusement and poignant moments that arrive with the unannounced stealth of a neighbor’s cat.
A trio of Oscar-winning old pros come together to play three retired partners in crime. It’s a treat to see Al Pacino, 72, Christopher Walken, 69, and Alan Arkin, 78, at work in a movie that’s sort of the gangster version of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, minus the hotel.
Walken plays Doc, an isolated man who eats at the same diner every day. He enjoys speaking to the young waitress there who always welcomes him warmly. We don’t learn much else about Doc, other than he’s an artist who specializes in painting golden-hued sunsets.
Doc’s routine, sedate existence is interrupted after he parks his decades-old, big, long car next to the prison gates from which his old friend and co-worker, Valentino, will be released.
Pacino co-stars as Val, a criminal who’s spent 28 years in prison. Despite the pressure that was applied to him to snitch, Val kept his mouth shut through all of those years.
Leaving prison while he’s still alive is a good thing. So who can blame Val for wanting to have some fun? After Val and Doc toss a few good-natured insults at each other, they hit the town in ways that are rather unseemly for men their age. First stop? The Lighthouse, their neighborhood house of prostitution.
Unfortunately, the guys’ reunion has a serious kink in it. Doc has orders from vengeful local crime boss Claphands (Mark Margolis) to murder Val.
“Kill him by 10 a.m. or you’re dead,” Claphands commands.
Val knows he’s marked for death but, wow, like they say, life ain’t fair. “I’m a standup guy,” he tells Doc, his only friend. “I took the fall for everyone.”
Through the day and night before Val’s scheduled execution, there’s time for the old friends to go on a mostly nighttime adventure. Their exploits hit the accelerator after they visit their old getaway driver, Hirsch, at his retirement home.
“Let’s escape,” Hirsch says. “Let’s roll.”
Playing Hirsch, Arkin completes the suddenly trouble-making old trio. He’s as entertaining as Hirsch in Stand Up Guys as he is as the movie mogul in sunset he plays in Argo. All the while, Walken as Doc is a deadpan but sly straight man to Arkin’s looking-for-a-last-hurrah Hirsch and Pacino’s out-for-thrills Val.
Pacino, true to his character and, in quintessential Pacino style, enlivens the screen as ex-con Val. He’s also in a movie that takes time to breathe, reflect and mourn. There’s marvelous interplay between Pacino, Walken and Arkin. Their honest, intimate, salty, old-pals conversation is a beautiful thing.
“Tomorrow became today,” Doc tells Val.
“It always does,” Val answers.
The movie’s veteran actors get some winning support from Julianna Margulies as an emergency room nurse and Addison Timlin as Alex, Doc’s favorite waitress at his favorite diner.
The musical score for Stand Up Guys is something special, too, including original songs by Jon Bon Jovi, vintage material from Muddy Waters and Baby Huey and songs by the recently rediscovered 1970s soul singer Charles Bradley.
A small film featuring three wily, veteran screen thespians in a storyline based in loyalty and friendship, Stand Up Guys is, in its offbeat and often warm way, a killer little movie.
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