We’ve seen a number of films recently about elderly people behaving badly and refusing to go gently into that good night, although the nadir of this sub-genre 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 lifelong friends who have worked in the local steel mill for most of their lives and live next to each other in the same street. 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 a bank themselves. With no experience in the ways of the 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. But 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. 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); 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 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 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. 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, 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 a nice 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. There are some enjoyable slapstick moments throughout. 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.
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 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. Kenan Thompson, Peter Serafinowicz and Josh Pais round out the cast.
Going in Style is an entertaining enough caper comedy, and it gets by on the sheer charisma, presence and performances of its veteran and very likeable stars.
Director: Zach Braff
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin
Release Date: 20 April 2017
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television