Going in Style is a remake of a 1979 heist comedy in which three of Hollywood’s elder statesmen plan a bank robbery and have a grand old time while doing it. What’s changed since 1979 is that whereas George Burns and Art Carney robbed a bank because they had nothing better to do, the stakes are considerably higher for Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. The script situates their plight as one of a nation giving up on its elderly. Pensions dry up, homes are foreclosed upon, the works. These are real circumstances plaguing Americans right now, and Going in Style trades those concerns for a few cheap laughs at Morgan Freeman’s expense.
The film lays out its conflict in the very first scene. Joe Hardy (Caine) witnesses a robbery at his bank the day he goes down to dispute missing pension deposits and a skyrocketing mortgage. Soon after, Joe—along with pals Willie (Freeman) and Al (Alan Arkin)—are informed that their factory is shipping its jobs overseas and terminating their pensions. With no income and thirty days before Joe loses his house, he convinces the others to help him rob the bank.
Then… Then they rob the bank. What? You thought there was more?
Theodore Melfi’s script dumps most of its plot on us in the first act. Joe and his pals have fallen on hard times, with thinning social security checks, declining health, and zero prospects. Each has his own burden to bear, impressing upon us that these guys genuinely have nothing to lose by stealing millions of dollars. If they get away with it, they’re set for life. If they get caught, they’ll go to jail and at least won’t have to worry about bills anymore. The only one with anything to lose is Al who, despite being a bitter curmudgeon about everything, is an accomplished jazz saxophonist constantly being hit on by Ann-Margaret. Life sure is tough sometimes.
Point being, Going in Style spends quite a bit of time early on painting a grim portrait of working class America. If a guy can’t get by after putting in 30+ years of hard work, then he’d better be ready to resort to a life of crime, like Joe’s drug-peddling ex-son-in-law (Peter Serafinowicz). Once they get around to the idea of robbing a bank, though, Joe’s cares disappear as he and the boys enjoy the thrill of the hunt. The tenor is like an episode of Breaking Bad where they hatch a cool scheme, and then pull it off, but they smash-cut to credits before everything turns to shit.
The economic backdrop shouldn’t be taking up so much of this review, and yet here we are. Chalk it up to director Zach Braff (of all people), who almost does too good of a job setting the scene for us. His attention to detail highlights all the little moments in these characters’ stories, humanizing them in a way that a broad heist comedy never really calls for. We don’t need to know the guys’ relationship with the waitress at their favorite diner, for example, but the film goes back to that well often enough that we come to appreciate it. The same goes for Joe’s relationship with his granddaughter (Joey King), which is so endearing that it seems like the film is really setting us up for a fall that ultimately never comes. Because, remember, this is a comedy.
It’s almost as though Braff doesn’t trust three Academy Award winners to generate enough pathos on their own. Keep in mind, no one was asking Zach Braff to do this. This is a film in which Morgan Freeman practices his grand larceny technique by walking into a grocery store and shoving an entire ham down his pants. At the risk of sounding like an MTV promo, there’s a certain level of verisimilitude where comedies stop being funny and start getting real. Going in Style has found that line and teeters over it time and again. Every time things get too real, the film pulls us back by having Alan Arkin make fun of a fat kid or by trotting out Christopher Lloyd to do his Taxi shtick.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with letting Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman cut loose with a silly movie every once in awhile. What little charm this film has comes from their natural charisma and rapport. It’s fun watching them share a meal together in the same way it’s fun sharing a meal with your favorite grandparent. If that’s all you’re looking for, Going in Style won’t disappoint. Hell or High Water this ain’t, but it feels like they kinda wanted it to be. Buyer beware.Liked This? Share It!