Sunday, March 10, 2013

'Stand Up Guys'- When Giants Play

Most of the reviews- even the ones who have praised ‘Stand Up Guys’  sound more like a sigh of relief. Most of the reviewers anticipated a sentimental clichéd ridden nostalgia, recycling known charms of proven performers whose fans are desperate to believe that they still have it in them. When the film did not fall for sentimentality and tackled stock nostalgia situations and clichés with a reasonable degree of sophistication good passing marks were given to this solid movie. This is a fan movie which works and this in itself is Oscar worthy.

We can also view it as revisiting of clichés in the Quentin Tarantino mode, Creating a vehicle of story telling on the solid  foundation of genre but transcending them by messing up with the generic formula inherent in them. Tarantino does it with genres, film trivia and even with history. Result is always unadulterated fun created by blinding insights, crisp dialogues and total control over the tempo.

Here Fischer is doing the same thing, but only to an extent. He is talking a stock situation even a genre but his aim is not to tell a story by modifying foundations of that genre. Reunion of old crime buddies with an overhang of menace, camaraderie along with a promise of one last   caper is almost formulaic and even generic with a good tradition. In ‘Stand Up Guys’  that tradition is not being put to story-telling. Here, the overarching objective is to showcase pure acting of three iconic actors without going too abstract, hence, the plot. This is plot involving a convict released after 28 years received by his best friend who has been asked to kill him within a stipulated timeframe. Then there is another friend, their getaway driver and a daughter, grand daughter. Setting is a city, apartment, hospital, a bar or some more, suitably nondescript locations, existing only to give a playing field to the giants. Such a contraption has a potential of being deficient with regard to viewer-payoff and it needs a solid filmmaking to avoid that. It is very difficult not to be taken in by this movie though every cinematic sensibilities of a hardcore reviewer will resist. Reason for this is that despite being a fan vehicle it is not an empty show off trip but gives them a credible nudges to stay germane to the value of audience entertainment. The actors are left free to do their thing but restrictions on them are clear and superbly executed. Seeing these boundaries enforced is a cinematic joy not an occasion to heave a sigh of relief. Here is a director who is not telling a compelling story but has different motives and that is a compelling affair. He is not only showcasing acting prowess of his heroes but also underlining his capacity of economically delivering the timbre and texture of a situation. Those situations need sophistication. As happens with stock situations- they are clichés and easily start behaving and looking like one to the dismay of a viewer. Here, they remain so but performers and directors managed to make them deeply human and entertaining. Coming out party, brothel visits, rescuing friends from old age home and sudden reaffirmation of old deftness in crime and violence are rarely more entertaining. Fischer has the ability of painting a deep picture with few strokes. Warmth between the friends, goodness of relatives, menace and conflict come easily without  very elaborate build up-mark of a great film.

Pacino ‘a shameless show off’ is, for me, ‘a master of sustained flourish’. He is capable of maintaining a flamboyant thing going without degenerating in vulgarity. He conveys tiredness, resignation, love and a playful streak with an ease which defies his seemingly exhausting antics on screen. Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle wrote “The thing most people will take away from "Stand Up Guys" is that it contains Al Pacino's best performance in years. So if you don't think Al Pacino still has it in him, this is a welcome chance to be proved wrong.----But here's something interesting. "Stand Up Guys" also contains Christopher Walken's best performance in years. In addition, the film is extraordinarily well cast, and the acting, even in the smaller roles, is more than noteworthy. In some cases, it's noticeably wonderful. This means "Stand Up Guys" can hardly be the product of Pacino and Walken's coming in and running things, but rather of a director of sensitivity and ability, working with an exceptional screenplay.” I tend to agree.

Cinema of compact story telling, though an important one, is not the only way of providing a satisfying movie experience. Assured handling of situations and accomplishing the task of making your film a vehicle for great actors without making it a disjointed spectacle of showy showdowns gives handsome returns to the viewer. 
Good film is for everyone, but for fans this is real treat. Target audience for Pacino, Walken and Arkin will not be able to handle cliché of ‘Expandable’ or ‘Die Hard’ variety. Male bravura  for some needs to show less machismo and more understanding. I am not talking about the hilarious Viagra episode (which, of course, will appeal to the age group where these titans are operating) but the uncertainty in the display of masculinity by these debauch and accomplished virtuosos. All this happens without any hint of condescending. This is priceless in a genre driven, cliché propelled film.

-Dhiraj Singh

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