Stand Up Guys (2012)

US / 95 minutes / color / Lionsgate, Sidney Kimmel, Lakeshore Dir: Fisher Stevens Pr: Sidney Kimmel, Jim Tauber, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi Scr: Noah Haidle Cine: Michael Grady Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies, Mark Margolis, Lucy Punch, Addison Timlin, Vanessa Ferlito, Katheryn Winnick, Bill Burr, Craig Sheffer, Yorgo Constantine.

After 28 years in the pen for armed robbery, Valentine “Val” (Pacino) is released; only his old cohort Doc (Walken) is still there for him. Doc, who seems to have spent much of the intervening time as a painter (sunrises not so much a specialty as a monomania), meets him, takes him back to his apartment, even escorts him to the bordello they used to frequent, now run by Wendy de Havilland (Punch, in a very funny performance), the daughter of the madam they used to know. Unfortunately, Val has . . . problems, so the two old buddies break into a pharmacist and steal some viagra—Doc taking the opportunity to stock himself up on some of his prescriptions: “My co-pay is insane on this one.”

After the pair have returned to the bordello and Val has performed as any man might who has swallowed not just a single viagra tab but a fistful, he drags Doc to a bar, snorts some powdered prescription drugs, helps Doc face down a couple of young hoodlums whom Doc knows all too well but whom Val regards as just aggressive punks, and finally, when his viagra overdose causes priapism and consequent extreme lightheadedness (the blood supply to his brain has been severely diminished because . . . well, work it out for yourself), finds himself in hospital, where the duty sister just happens to be Nina Hirsch (Margulies), daughter of the pair’s old friend and getaway driver, Richard Hirsch (Arkin).

Stand Up Guys - To hospital Val (Pacino) must go after a viagra o-d

To hospital Val (Al Pacino) must go after a viagra o/d.

By now we know and Val has figured out that Doc is there not just as his friend but in order to execute him. The crime that Val was jailed for was an armed heist. The mastermind behind the heist, Claphands (Margolis), insisted his own son was part of the team. The son cracked during the heist and started shooting. In the subsequent crossfire, the son walked into a bullet fired by Val. Ever since then, as Val says of Claphands, “He can’t forgive himself, so everybody else has gotta pay.” As he also remarks of the bitter old crime boss, he’s “the meanest, most vindictive motherfucker outside the Devil himself.” It’s Claphands’s punks Larry (Burr) and Paul (Constantine) who were the ones who tried to face down Val in the bar.

Stand Up Guys - From near to the outset we know Doc (C Walken) has to whack Val (Pacino)

Almost from the outset we know Doc (Christopher Walken) has to whack Val (Al Pacino).

Claphands gives Doc until 10am tomorrow to kill Val or be killed himself; later Claphands adds to the penalties the life of Alex (Timlin), the sweet waitress at the Brite Spot diner, where Doc habitually eats, and who, unknown to her, is actually Doc’s grandchild. Much of the movie’s poignancy derives from Doc’s situation, torn between his deep (if often prickly) friendship for Val, the increasingly urgent need to put a bullet through Val’s head, and the desire to give his old pal a last night to remember (as it were).

The two retired hoodlums have learned from Nina that their erstwhile driver Hirsch, suffering from emphysema, is incarcerated in “The Lighthouse: A Home That Cares”; once they’ve liberated him, the three go on the razzle in a swanky car Val found at the kerb and impulsively stole. Hirsch takes the wheel, as he used to do, and everyone discovers that the only way he knows how to drive is the way he did in his old getaway days . . .

Later the crooks find, naked in the car’s trunk, a young woman, Sylvia (Ferlito), who has been gang-raped by the ferocious Jargoniew brothers: “These are the kind of guys’d take your kidneys out and not even sell them.” They overpower the punks and, having called the cops, leave the rapists to the mercy of their victim and her baseball bat: “You guys like the ballet, don’t you? The Nutcracker was my favorite.”

Stand Up Guys - Sylvia (Ferlito) prepares to exact revenge upon her rapists

Sylvia (Vanessa Ferlito) prepares to exact revenge upon her rapists.

There’s more, much more, in a noirish movie that manages perfectly to balance uproarious comedy with genuinely touching moments, leading up to a brief but powerful action finale. Pacino and Walken are obviously having an absolute ball homaging both each other and their own movie careers—

“Should we kick ass or chew gum?”
“I don’t have any gum with me.”

Most of the other parts are little more than cameos, those of Arkin, Punch and especially Timlin being more substantive; Timlin, who could have played her part as just a pretty young woman, manages almost to erase that prettiness in her portrayal of the charming, sincere, warmhearted granddaughter we’d all like to have—such paragons may not exist in life, but it’s damn’ fine, once in a while, to encounter them in the movies.

Stand Up Guys - Doc (Walken) and Val (Pacino) decide to go down fighting - 'I didn't bring any gum'

Doc (Christopher Walken) and Val (Al Pacino) decide to go down fighting — “I didn’t bring any gum.”

Stand Up Guys received a single Golden Globe nomination, for one of the original Jon Bon Jovi songs on the soundtrack, but otherwise went unrecognized by the awards committees. This is a pity. Although there’s enough bad language and general scatology that you might not want to take your sweet old mom to see it, this picaresque piece is a fine little movie.




On Stand Up Guys

2 thoughts on “Stand Up Guys (2012)

  1. Well, John, you have unearthed yet another title that has defied the middling reviews to stand up mightily in more ways than one. Ha, I like that NUTCRACKER quip. The great cast should have convinced me not to let this go by, but I’ll seek it out. Quite a spirited piece of writing here!

    • You may very well find you don’t like it — I gather the critics by and large disliked it, and I recall one of your own WitD commentators disparaging it in no uncertain terms.

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