A film review by Craig J. Koban April 16, 2017


2017, PG-13, 96 mins.


Morgan Freeman as Willie  /  Michael Caine as Joe  /  Alan Arkin as Albert  /  Joey King as Brooklyn  /  Matt Dillon as Hamer  /  Ann-Margret as Annie  /  Maria Dizzia as Rachel Harding  /  Christopher Lloyd as Milton  /  Siobhan Fallon as Mitzi  /  John Ortiz as Jesus

Directed by Zach Braff  /  Written by Theodore Melfi



GOING IN STYLE is cinematic comfort food: It's simply prepared, has nostalgic and sentimental value, tastes relatively good and goes down without much fuss.  

The film has multiple identities - it's a remake, a grumpy old men comedy of errors, and a bank heist film.  Most importantly, it's a gathering together of three industry thespian heavyweight titans of the movies in Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, all of whom have won acting Oscars.  GOING IN STYLE doesn't score points for genre originality (it's a mechanical paint-by-numbers affair for all involved), but it gets considerable mileage out of the wonderful on-screen chemistry of the aforementioned actors.  They give the film a natural, easy going, and lived-in level of camaraderie when the script built around them ostensibly feels artificial and contrived. 

The film is based on the 1979 Martin Brest comedy of the same name (unseen by me) and starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as a trio of old codgers that decide to rob a bank to help make ends meet.  This new iteration copies the overall premise of its antecedent, albeit with alterations here and there to modernize it for contemporary consumption.  Caine, Freeman, and Arkin play Joe, Willie, and Albert respectively, three life long bosom buddies that spend a lion's share of their retirement years in each other's company.  Joe resides with his daughter and granddaughter and is facing mortgage issues with his local bank, whereas Albert and Willie share a home together right across the street.  Outside of their financial woes, the men seem, for the most part, happy and content...that is until they discover that their former employer is purchased and is having most of their labor and supply force being cheaply outsourced out of country.  As an added kick to their geriatric balls...their current pensions are eliminated by the new owners. 



At their financial and emotional wit's end, Joe is inspired by being a witness at a local bank robbery that - wait a tick! - maybe he and his BFFs could indeed rob a bank as well...provided that they have a full proof and airtight plan of attack that would ensure their getting off scot-free.  As Albert matter of factly and sarcastically points out, he and his buddies are beyond over the hill and questions their collective abilities to be physically up to the challenge of a daring bank robbery.  That, and there's the threat of being caught and spending the rest of their few remaining years behind bars.  Joe thinks it's a win-win:  If they rob the bank undetected they will be financially set until their die, whereas if they're caught they will be given lodgings, three meals a day, and have no financial burdens on the inside.  Realizing that their options are limited, the trio embarks on their crazy scheme, but first need some much needed help from a local underground criminal (Jon Ortiz) that will teach them the ropes of pulling it all off. 

Again, there's really only one reason to see GOING IN STYLE and that's for its lead actors.  The individual characters that Freeman, Caine and Arkin are called upon to play are by no means acting stretches for any of them (Arkin in particular is saddled with yet another Allan Arkinian character through and through), but it's really, really difficult not to be taken in with the level of low key and effortless charm that they all bring to the proceedings.  Now, the underlining premise of seventy-something men planning and implementing a bank robbery is, on paper, beyond ridiculous, but the actors here all somehow make the build up to said robbery seem somehow credible.  Of course, the film contains the predictable requisite elements of humor directed at their advancing decrepitude, but Freeman, Caine and Arkin are such wonderful company to behold that you're almost willing to forgive such stilted scripting contrivances. 

And GOING IN STYLE does have its share of deeply amusing moments, especially in the build up and preparation to the team's bank heist.  One sequence in particular is a howler, involving the three criminals-to-be doing a dry run at a local grocery store to see exactly what they can get away with stealing and in the quickest manner possible (it culminates with a great sight gag involving Caine and Freeman making a daring getaway...on a motorized scooter).  There are also some inspired scenes between Arkin and Ann-Margaret, the latter who plays an aging sales associate at that super market that takes a strong liking to Albert, which builds up to the pair becoming inseparable sex pals.  Margaret is in fine form playing her senior citizen sex kitten to Arkin's sardonic wise ass whose crusty outer defenses crumble to her erotic advances. 

I don't want to spoil many of the details of the bank robbery itself, other than to say that the film finds a clever manner of subverting our expectations of it by dealing a few nifty twists and turns in its aftermath that keep the story moving gingerly along.  One area that GOING IN STYLE definitely misses the mark on is in its many undercranked subplots, all of which are vying for storytelling attention, but receive very little from writer Theodore Melfi (HIDDEN FIGURES).  There's a dealt with, and then forgotten about family arc involving Joe and his daughter's deadbeat loser of an ex-husband (a criminally underused Peter Serafinowicz) that probably could have been excised from the film altogether.  Then there's a potentially juicy subplot involving the smug FBI agent (a game Matt Dillion) that's looking to book Joe, Willie and Albert for their crimes, but without sufficient concrete proof.  There's a potentially compelling angle here of the younger generation thinking that they're infinitely smarter than the older one, which the film flirts with, but never fully capitalizes on. 

GOING IN STYLE could have also benefited from being a bit edgier with its social commentary, especially considering our somewhat bleak economic woes and times.  The screenplay displays great promise in terms of tapping into the angry working class psyches of its elderly characters, but its overall approach is pretty glaringly black and white (banks and corporations = bad, old men being screwed over by those systems = good).  There's something inherently sad and tragic about men that devoted their lives and well being to a broken financial system that will unavoidably crush them, but GOING IN STYLE feels achingly soft pedaled in attempting to go to any potentially dark thematic areas.  More often than not, the film's whimsically light hearted and inviting tone doesn't allow for a more somber examination of what's happening to Joe, Willie, and Albert. 

My biggest disappointment with GOING IN STYLE is discovering that it was directed by Zach Braff, who way, way back in 2004 made the splendid GARDEN STATE, a dramedy that struck a cord with me so much that I put it on my list of the ten best films of that year and left me thinking that Braff was a new breed of empowered and talented actors turned directors.  It's disheartening to see that he's done nothing with his directorial career to match his superb debut effort 13 years ago (2014's well intentioned crowd funding effort WISH I WAS HERE didn't recapture GARDEN STATE's freshness of approach).  Braff's work in GOING IN STYLE lacks...well...style and his past displayed esoteric fingerprints.  Ultimately, considering the massive talent in front of the camera and Braff's affinity behind it, this film should have felt less pedestrian and workmanlike.  GOING IN STYLE is a pleasurable romp to watch because of the caliber of its leads, to be sure, but as a film worthy of a theatrical ticket price, GOING IN STYLE is a modestly endearing rental at best. 


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