“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for
you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your
own flesh, you will reap corruption from the
flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap
eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow
weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at
harvest time, if we do not give up.”
Director Fisher Steven and screenwriter Noah Haidle’s crime film suggests that even bad guys can be agents of grace despite their past and present misdeeds. This characters in this beautifully scripted film might be society’s bottom feeders, but they manage to retain a sense of decency, a care for the left out and abused that does them credit—and they even know their Bible, one of them quoting from 2 Corinthians, and his friend shows that he knows where it came from.
The film opens with Val (Al Pacino) going therough the process of being released from prison. We learn that he has served a 28 year sentence in which at least two others were also involved, but he took the fall. His best friend Doc (Walken) is waiting for him. They resume their relationship as if they had just parted the day before. They are so close that Doc never flinches when Val insults his somewhat shabby apartment, the main feature of which is an easle on which is a landscape painting of a beautiful sunrise.
Val discovers that world has changed a lot in 28 years. He wants to make up for lost time by ordering a lavish steak supper at the diner Doc frequents—and visiting an old familiar brothel, now run by the owner’s daughter. When he cannot perform sexually, the two friends go out and pick the lock of a closed pharmacy to steal some viagra and other drugs. Back at the brothel Val is more successful the second time around, but he also discovers that the commercials about its possible four-hour side affects are true. He winds up in the hospital where the night nurse turns out to be the daughter of the third member of their trio Hirsch (Alan Arkin). Learning that he is in a nursing home, they set forth to “rescue” their friend, using a gangster’s fancy car they have hot-wired. Having been the getaway driver in former years, Hirsch insists on driving, even though he is frail. This leads to a thrilling chase by and escape from the police and then the discovery that in the trunk is a trussed-up young woman who had been abducted and raped by several tough guys. This leads to…well all sorts of mayhem and some good deeds.
Somewhere near the beginning of the above sequence Val asks his friend, whom we have noticed fiddling with his gun, when is it going to be. After some hesitation, Doc admits that their former boss Claphands (Mark Margolis) has indeed ordered him to kill Val, the reason being that during the attempted robbery that landed Val in prison, the boss’s only son had been killed. It is unclear that Val’s bullet during the exchange of gunfire killed the young man, but someone has to pay. Val asks when, and Doc reveals that it is by 10 the next morning—he has put off the hit, even trying to plead over a clandestine phone call with the gangster to spare his friend. The ruthless mobster says that if he does not finish the job by 10, not only Doc, but his granddaughter will die as well. Val takes all this in matter-of-factly, accepting his fate and the fact that his friend must be the agent of his death. What he desires in the few hours left is to live life to the fullest.
The relationship of Doc with his granddaughter is tenderly revealed. She is the friendly waitress at the all night diner he has been frequenting for a long time. She is unaware of their relationship, her affection for him developing during his everyday visits to the diner. Val pushes his friend to let her know, but Doc is reluctant to do so.
How all this comes to a head, in a scene that might remind you of the ending of Thelma & Louise, makes this a memorable buddy film. The three veteran actors are at their top form, and yet, even though their roles are minor supporting ones, the women are skillfully portayed by the actresses (Addison Timlin as the waitress Alex; Lucy Punch as brothel manager Wendy; and Vanessa Ferlito as the victimized Sylvia). Although the profanity, drug use, and unjudgmental sex make this a questionable film for church use, people of faith should be interested in a film that shows Bible-quoting elderly gangsters becoming agents of grace in a seedy world where such acts might be unexpected.
For Reflection & Discussion 1. From a moralistic view how would you describe the three friends? Would most people expect any good to come from them?
2. How is Doc caught in a dilemma? What do you think of the way this is resolved at the climax?
3. What does Doc’s paintings reveal about his character?
4. Although Val is profligate in “the sins of the flesh,” what core values from his childhood faith remains? What moments of grace do you see in the film?
5. How does the Galatians quote fit well with the plot?
6. What is Doc attempting to do in the church confession box scene? How is the priest’s response appropriate to Doc’s seeking a simple solution? And yet, did you wish for him to come out of the safe box and talk further with Val? For instance, if you have seen Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, do you think that priest would have just sat there? How was he a good example of a Hound of Heaven-type clergyman ersisting pursuing Eastwood’s character.
7. Do you think that Jesus would have been comfortable associating with Val, Doc, and Hirsch? Why, or why not?