Sometimes it’s nice to go to a movie and spend a couple of hours with the old pros, especially when the film seems like it’s going to be one thing on the surface, and turns out rather different. The film is Stand Up Guys, and it came into town last week with little, if any, fanfare. It’s not playing everywhere, just a few select locations. Even film sites such as the Internet Movie Data Base and Google tag it as a “comedy.” Sure, there’s humor and a couple of laughs, but it’s definitely not The Sunshine Boys as Goodfellas.
A trio of stick-up men from the old days hasn’t seen each other in many years. Christopher Walken is Doc. He’s retired, lives simply, and like to get up every morning to paint sunrises. As Val, Al Pacino has been in prison for twenty-eight years and is finally being paroled. They hunt up their wheelman, Hirsch, played by Alan Arkin, for a reunion of sorts.
Along the way, they encounter a raft of characters. Pacino wants to go to their favorite “house” to have a “coming-out party” if you catch my drift. Seems though that their fondly-remembered madam has retired to Florida, and her daughter is now running the business. Walken has become friends with Alex, a server at his favorite restaurant who is both charming and efficient. When the duo encounters Juliana Margulies, in a small role for the TV star, she tells them where to find her father, Hirsch. Seems like he’s living out his days in a nursing home, so the pals go to liberate him.
So what makes Stand Up Guys do a 180 is that it’s not an uber-violent mob-revenge flick. It’s not a laugh-out-loud comedy. It’s a character study of three old friends who, even though making a living through doing wrong things, always try to eventually do the right things. For example, there’s one scene where Pacino wants to go into a church for his first confession in sixty or so years. He’s not embarrassed to own up to his bad deeds, but he does want his good deeds to count for something as well.
You come to really like these guys, and would be happy to call any one of them your “grandpa.” It’s charming, heartwarming, and reminiscent of a style of filmmaking from a different era. If you’re familiar with the films of director-actor John Cassavetes, Stand Up Guys reminds me of Husbands from 1968. It's basically a tale of three pals who do what three pals do, as played by Cassavetes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara.
Stand Up Guys, the second film from actor-director Fisher Stevens is a bit more structured than most of Cassavetes’ films, but it works. It also has some great movie references. Twice, Pacino and Walken quote one of my favorite lines from a John Carpenter film. You’ll know it when you hear it. It also has a nice nod to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which also had funny stuff, but wasn’t really a comedy either.
However, if you have any interest in seeing this terrific under-the-radar film, do it now, as I doubt if it will be around very long. The R-rated Stand Up Guys is now playing at Clifton’s Esquire Theatre, and three or four plexes around town. You’ll need to check the listings to see where.