Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Zach Braff
Stars: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Joey King, John Ortiz, Matt Dillon, Josh Pais, Christopher Lloyd, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Peter Serafinowicz, Kenan Thompson.
We’ve seen a number of films recently about elderly people behaving badly and refusing to go gently into that good night (Last Vegas, etc), although the nadir of this subgenre would have to be last year’s awful Dirty Grandpa. We even had the British comedy Golden Years, in which an elderly couple, fed up with the way their financial future has been threatened by greedy banks, embarked on a crime spree. Going In Style is a geriatric buddy heist caper comedy that follows three octogenarians as they embark on a bank robbery to secure their livelihood and financial future.
Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are life-long friends who have worked in the local steel mill for most of their lives and live next to each other in the same street. In fact Willie and Albert have shared the same house for 25 years. Long since retired they are counting on their pensions to see them through their twilight years. But the bank is threatening to foreclose the mortgage on Joe’s home, and their former employer is closing its pension payment plan and sending its operations overseas. How are the three going to survive?
Having recently witnessed a bank robbery himself, Joe suggests that the three rob the local Williamsburg Savings Bank themselves. After all he has learned plenty about crime from watching Law & Order on tv. With no practical experience in the ways of criminal activities, they seek help from a local lowlife and professional thief and drug dealer named Jesus (John Ortiz). When a suspicious Jesus initially asks the trio if they are 5-0, Joe replies: “We’re practically 8-0.”
The three hatch their plan, prepare their masks, concoct an elaborate alibi, and they are in business. They perform a dry test run by trying to steal goods from the local supermarket, which goes disastrously wrong. And it is probably not such a good idea to watch Dog Day Afternoon before embarking on a bank robbery. Once they carry out the robbery they then have to evade detection from suspicious veteran FBI agent Hamer (Matt Dillon).
Going In Style is a loose remake of the 1979 caper film directed by Martin Brest that starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. This remake takes the material in a slightly different direction though and develops a much more emotional connection with the three leads. And it is not as dark. It is not just about the money for them as there is more at stake. Caine dotes on his precocious granddaughter Brooklyn (played by Joey King, from Wish I Was Here, etc); Freeman is sick and needs a new kidney quickly, news that he hasn’t shared with his two best friends; and Arkin is a grouchy and sarcastic curmudgeon who reluctantly agrees to go along with the heist.
Freeman, Caine and Arkin share four Oscars between them and have an average age of 82, but they bring plenty of verve, energy and good humour to the screen, and they enliven the material. Going In Style has more humour and wit than many other recent comedies that have flatlined. The three leads develop a wonderful, easy going rapport. Caine is a master of effortlessly going through the motions and he brings plenty of style, charm and dry wit to his performance. Freeman always delivers a good performance, even in bad films, and here he beings a warmth and sympathetic quality to his role. This is the sixth time that Caine and Freeman have worked together (the three Christopher Nolan Batman films and the two Now You See Me films). And Arkin plays the grumpy old man well, and he works well with them as they trade one-liners and quips about growing old. The three stars have a twinkle in their eyes and a spring in their steps throughout and they clearly enjoyed themselves here.
The genial nature of the film is largely due to the script from Theodore Melfi, who gave us the wonderful St Vincent and the superb Hidden Figures. He is a writer who has great empathy for his characters and he has a feel good sensibility. The film also manages to work in some subtle criticisms of the way in which western society treats its elderly and some trenchant commentary about corporate greed and the rapacious nature of big banks. A delicious irony here is that one of the film’s executive producers is Steven Mnuchin, a former corporate banker who is now Treasury Secretary in the Trump administration.
The director is Zach Braff, best known for his work on the tv sitcom Scrubs, etc, who has established a solid reputation as a director with the well-regarded 2004 independent film Garden State to his credit. Braff understands comedy and maintains an amiable pace throughout this routine and by the numbers comedy. He develops an empathy for his three central characters. Braff maintains the energy throughout, although the pace does flag a little in the middle sections of the film. There are some enjoyable slap stick moments throughout such as a “high speed getaway” in a motorised scooter. This is an enjoyable enough film squarely aimed at the older demographic, the same audiences that embraced films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, etc.
The supporting cast includes Ann-Margret, still sultry and sexy as Annie, who works in the local supermarket and is attracted towards Albert, even though he is not interested in a romantic relationship. Her role here as the aging seductress will remind audiences of her role in Grumpy Old Men. Christopher Lloyd is wasted and given little to do as Marvin, a slightly deranged and doddery old man suffering from dementia and who continually forgets where he is. Matt Dillon, Kenan Thompson, Peter Serafinowicz, Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Josh Pais round out the cast.
Going In Style is an entertaining enough formulaic caper comedy, and it gets by on the sheer charisma, presence and performances of its veteran and very likeable stars.