At one point, one of three veteran hoodlums facing the indignities of old age and the fact that time waits for no man, confronted with what is coming, says "This is what it comes to". A less generous viewer might point out such a sentence was exactly what Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin might have in mind when shooting Stand Up Guys, with a question mark added for emphasis: "this is what it comes to?". Yet, disappointing as it may be, Fisher Stevens' gentle comedy of old age is neither undignified nor a complete waste of time; instead, it's an amiable effort that shortchanges its cast with a predictable narrative arc, but thrives in the sense of nostalgia for older, riskier days - both for old-school gangsters and for thrillingly daring film performances.
Granted, there is a sense that the "package" alone got Stand Up Guys green-lighted: three of the most electric performers of 1970s American cinema playing their age as small-time mobsters reunited when Mr. Pacino's Val is freed after a 30-year stint in jail. Noah Haidle's script makes no secret from the beginning that this first night of freedom will also very likely be Val's last, and that Mr. Walken's Doc, his best friend and the only one to stick along during the entire 30 years, is the one who will have to dispose of him. What maintains interest, then, is not so much the apparently pre-ordained end result, but much more the wayward path the tale will take until an ultimate resolution that may or may not be the one we viewers were led to expect. That wayward path involves a diner staffed by the charming Alex (Addison Timlin), a family-business brothel run by the ditzy Wendy (Lucy Punch) and a third mobster, former getaway driver Hirsch (Mr. Arkin), sprung from his retirement home for a sort of "last hurrah".
Not all of the adventures of these men with enough age to be grandparents are entirely convincing (some are borderline embarrassing), but they're all given the right amount of bounce and poignancy by the performances of a serene Mr. Pacino and, especially, a restrained Mr. Walken (Mr. Arkin's is, effectively and sadly, merely a guest star turn). As the night goes, the sense that there's a history shared and felt between them, the way they make each word and move speak the volumes that are left unspoken, turns this rather creaky melodrama of men coping with growing old and not being anymore who they once were into a charmingly bitter-sweet comedy in a minor key. Mr. Stevens, a veteran supporting actor who has been mostly active as a producer, keeps any interferences to a minimum; his handling is so self-effacing as to be mostly illustrative of the script, but has the advantage of shining the best possible light on his leads, and they respond with performances that breath life and humanity into a routine production. This is what they have come to? Well, yes, but at least there's something to it.
Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies, Mark Margolis, Lucy Punch, Addison Timlin, Vanessa Ferlito
Director: Fisher Stevens
Screenplay: Noah Haidle
Cinematography: Michael Grady (colour, widescreen)
Music: Lyle Workman
Designer: Maher Ahmad
Costumes: Lindsay Ann McKay
Editor: Mark Livolsi
Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Jim Tauber, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi (Lionsgate Films, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Lakeshore Entertainment Group)
USA, 2012, 95 minutes
Screened: DVD, Lisbon, June 9th 2013