Stand Up Guys
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 6:23 pm
A little bit “Goodfellas” and a little bit “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” this is a life-in-a-day story about aging criminals. Unlike Ferris, these guys have had too many days off and are very happy to return to their old haunts and activities.
Val (Al Pacino) gets out of prison after 28 years. He has been a “stand up guy.” He never told on his friends. One of those friends is there to pick him up, still in the same car he had back when Val went away. They greet each other warmly. “You look like s***.” “You look worse.” A brief hug feels “weird.” But that’s just their way of saying how glad they are to see each other.
Val is eager to get back in the game, meaning food, alcohol, girls, and stirring up trouble. But he is not the only one whose life has been on hold. Doc has been waiting for Val to get out of prison because he he missed his friend but also because he has a job to do. A thuggish and brutal crime boss named Claphands (Mark Margolis) has a hit out on Val and he insists that Doc be the one to do it. Val wants to live it up because he just got out of prison. Doc wants to help him live it up because he will have just one more night before he is killed. Val gets the picture pretty quickly.
So, they round up their old friend Hirsch (Alan Arkin), who is in a nursing home breathing from an oxygen tank and steal a car that happens to belong to two other thugs known for their brutality (“These are the kind of guys who take your kidney and don’t even sell it”). They go out for an outrageous joyride that includes a couple of visits to a sympathetic madam (Lucy Punch), some big meals, a bit of breaking and entering and light robbery, a visit to the emergency room for a very intimate procedure assisted by a nurse they knew when she was a child (Julianna Margulies of “A Good Wife”), a game of pool, a poignant but courtly slow dance that seems directly lifted from Pacino’s own “Scent of a Woman,” an impromptu burial, some revenge beat-downs, some thoughts about life and aging and a friendly young waitress with beautiful eyes. “It’s like the old days,” says Hirsch. “No, it’s better. This time, we can appreciate it.”
The story is preposterous, but the coincidences and improbabilities (like the almost-complete absence of any other people) just add to the fairy tale or dreamlike quality. The story could almost exist as a fantasy created by the imprisoned Val. It is not just Val and Doc who want a chance to show their vitality and know-how in the face of their mortality. Pacino, Walken, and Arkin show all of that and the pure joy of performing in the knowledge that they are better than ever. “That’s got no flavor, no style,” one of them says dismissively. These guys have all the flavor and style in the world and it is always fun to see them show it. And this time, we can appreciate it.
Parents should know that this film has constant very strong and crude language, explicit sexual references and situations including nudity, Viagra use and prostitutes, criminal behavior, references to rape, drinking, smoking, drug use, and extensive violence with some disturbing images with characters injured and killed.
Family discussion: What is the difference between Val, Doc, Claphands, the Jargoniews and Wendy in the way they set and enforce rules? What makes someone a “stand up guy?”
If you like this, try: “Midnight Run,” “Gran Torino,” and “Going in Style”