‘Stand Up Guys’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:43 am,

stand up guys movie Stand Up Guys Review

The characters even acknowledge the predictability of what happens to them (re: the plot), but the actors playing them choose to enjoy the ride.

Stand Up Guys brings together Oscar-winners Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin – three gentlemen with more than 150 years of experience gesticulating in the movies – but does it use them for more than geriatric comedy and thematic reminiscing about the bygone age of cinema (where tough guys cracked heads and took names according to their internal moral compass)?

The picture opens with Val (Pacino) leaving prison after completing a 28-year stint, with his friend and fellow ex-gangster retiree Doc (Walken) waiting to greet him at the gate. Following a few detours that include Russian hookers, pharmacy robbery and a pit-stop at Doc’s favorite diner, the pair break out their former getaway driver Hirsch (Arkin) from the old folk’s home, to join them for a night of living life to the fullest – operating with the knowledge their time is limited, by forces other than just Mother Nature.

Stand Up Guys rejects the crime/gangster genre’s post-Tarantino tendencies, by forgoing the surface-deep pastiche and self-satisfied hipness found in so many Pulp Fiction wannabes released over the last two decades. Sure, self-awareness arises through the casting of Godfather trilogy and Scarface icon Pacino alongside Walken (the Pulp Fiction alum and scene-stealer in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance), but those meta qualities do not overshadow the significance of thematic reflections on diminishing cultural values. Here, for example, the written conversations aren’t striving for quotability, they’re about serving the characters in their ruminating on the nature and meaning of a criminal’s existence.

The script from relative newcomer Noah Haidle attempts to make that meditative cinema more palpable by splicing in some conventional senior citizen-based humor (libido jokes, a modern car technology gag, etc.). Is it a perfect union? Well, no; it results in a film that often wobbly oscillates between Space Cowboys territory – or rather, Clint Eastwood’s version of Grumpy Old Men – and a timeless, but tender, drama that doesn’t feel like a self-aware throwback to socially-conscious 1970s material (but very much is). However, at the end of the day, the good outweighs the bad.

stand up guys walken pacino arkin Stand Up Guys Review

Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin are ‘Stand Up Guys’

Director Fisher Stevens – a character actor some might remember from 1990s TV series such as Early Edition and Key West (or, going further back, Ben in the Short Circuit movies) – working with cinematographer Michael Grady (NotoriousFaster) creates a painterly technique of an unspecific sense of time, place and mood. The film’s nice-and-clean camerawork, muted colors and quiet night atmosphere are simple and non-flashy, much like the performances of its elderly stars. Indeed, the visual style is complimented by equally solid editing from Mark Livolsi, a former assistant editor to Woody Allen (before he moved onto stuff like Wedding Crashers and The Blind Side).

Walken, Pacino and Arkin are saddled with old man jokes, some of which are clever in their satirizing of gangster concepts about impotence (be it physical or mental) and reliance on chemical enhancements; others, however, are just an excuse to watch screen icons mess around with Viagra and kvetch about their age. The leads handle these weaker moments with as much assurance and ease as the dramatic beats where they express remorse and guilt. In lesser hands, such a balancing act could have turned out a disaster; fortunately, these fellows know what they are doing. (Shocking, right?)

Supporting players Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Lucy Punch (Bad Teacher), Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad), Addison Timlin (Californication) and Vanessa Ferlito (Death Proof) occupy characters that represent nostalgia, regret, vengeance and redemption for the film’s three wise guys; though, devoting more time to allowing them to shine (be it for dramatic or light-hearted effect) might have strengthened their roles on both an immediate and metaphorical level. Instead, they make for fleeting, but welcome, distractions from the routine old crook shenanigans. “Close enough,” Pacino’s character might say.

The people behind Stand Up Guys get caught up in stereotypical old-timer laughs (including, an outdated catch-phrase), but its principal cast shakes that off and make the experience more fulfilling and artistically-accomplished than expected. Indeed, the characters even acknowledge the predictability of what happens to them (re: the plot), but the actors playing them choose to enjoy the ride, instead of complaining. In the end, that’s what makes the difference.

Check out the trailer for Stand Up Guys (in case you’re still not sure if this is your sort of movie):


Stand Up Guys is now playing in semi-limited release. It is 95 minutes long and Rated R for language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. Christopher Walken & Al Pacino are one of the best actors of all time but Alan Arkin is pretty average.

    • Alan Arkin is average?! I think you’re eyes have deceived you, Arkin is probably the best of the bunch there.

    • Two people are one of the best actors of all time? Are you on meth? Crack? Or are you just braindead?

      • It was obviously an mistake, dumb ass.

  2. Looks like a decent enough movie with some legendary players involved. One of the actresses involved, Katheryn Winnick, built a good buzz for the movie via social media so I’ve been looking forward to checking it out.

    What is “semi-limited” release, if you don’t mind my asking?

    • It’s only playing in 659 theaters (according to BOM), whereas the other films opening this weekend are showing in 2,400-3000 theaters. I figured I would mention that, in case anyone wonders why it’s not showing in their area.

      • That’s the case for me. Maybe next weekend. Thanks for the explanation!

      • My local theater has been getting CR&P for new releases lately. I wanted to see The Last Stand, not playing. I want to see Bullet to the Head, not playing. I want to see this film, not playing. What IS playing STILL is Lincoln, The Hobbit (2 SCREENS!) and Les Mis. Movies that have been out for nearly 2 months or MORE!! Theater owners don’t need to wonder why no one is going to the movies, it’s that they aren’t putting out new releases and aticking with films that are TWO FREAKING MONTHS old! I’m NOT driving 30 minutes to see these films, so now I have no other choice but to wait for Netflix or Redbox to have them. I was WILLING to spend $10 a ticket plus concessions, but the Regal decided they don’t want my theater playing new releases unless it’s garbage like the Twilight wannabe “Warm Bodies.” What’s next, is Die Hard going to get booted for a re-release of Gone with the Wind?

        • Meant “sticking” not “aticking”. I need some sleep!

        • When I went to the theater last night – Lincoln was sold out. There is still an audience there so it will show until the interest wans.

  3. Thanks for the review. Walken and Arkin are getting around these days. I’m off to see it in an hour.

  4. Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it.

  5. and you sir, should learn to proof read your comments. i don’t know what scribblig means. what were you saying about the big assignments?

    • He was too busy thinking of something lame and pretentious to say instead of proof reading. ;)

      Keep up the good reviews, Sandy.

  6. This movie was so bad and so full of holes I have been searching for reviews to corroborate my opinion lest I missed something. The script is so beneath the talent I must conclude that Pacino, Walken, and Arkin agreed to do this as a favor to somebody.

    • I bet you loved The Notebook…

  7. GREAT GREAT GREAT CAST,i agree not trying to be hip, or cash in on that paper thin gangster bullsh*t,but unfortunatly this movie sucked.i give the cast 500 stars for getting this pile of dull repetitive cliched ripp off unoriginal bull sh*t, a three star review. p.s. i could watch al and walkin,watch paint dry and still be entertained.

  8. It is only showing in about 4 theaters around Dallas so I had to drive 45 miles one way to see it. It was worth the gas. Being older I think made me appreciate it more.

  9. The panning this movie is getting is not justified- one of the best films i have seen in a long time- the script was perfect- the relationship between walken and pacino seems like a lot of it was improvised in any case- had a very real and quirky feel to it apart fromm some of the ridiculous plot asides- butr this movie is about character and that is all- looking for anything else in it is the behaviour of a retard.
    thanks for a review that actually got the movies premise instead of panning it for being slow and formulaic- its meant to be you stupid stupid people- if you really know about film then i thoroughly recommend it but some folks cant cope with walkens battering down of the fourth wall.
    i checked the review on rotten tomatoes and it was down at 36% with a thumbs up from rolling stone and a misguided revciew from USA today who hated it- about says it all really…

  10. I am surprised at the vitriol leveled at this movie and its low ratings across the board. Maybe I am just not sophisticated enough to appreciate the art of film (found the Notebook a great insomnia cure and Les Mis frankly painful to listen too let alone watch).

    This is a lighthearted romp with a dig at the gangster movie genre which I found made me laugh. The crew worked well together and whilst not Oscar material, there is a place on the DVD shelves for this one.

  11. s it fun? Sure, some of the time. Is it good? That’s a stretch. Does it tap the potential of these three actors?