Going in Style is a remake of a 1979 Martin Brest film of the same name, which starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. I have not seen that version, which is probably a good thing, as my response to the new adaptation may be kinder for it.
The new film stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as three life-long friends who have recently been made redundant, a blow compounded by the suspension of their pensions. When Caine’s character (Joe) witnesses a brazen armed robbery at his bank, he hatches a plan to replicate the crime and take what he feels is rightfully his. With his best friends Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) in on the scheme, the three men plot a heist of their own, stealing only as much as their pension had owing and donating the excess to charity.
The synopsis is simple enough and it merits a straightforward caper narrative with all of the expected tropes. That’s exactly what it delivers, and yet it also offers three sincere character studies that, while far be them from complex, are engaging and very endearing. It is this unexpected earnestness that elevates the film above being a generic comedy and is the product of its strong casting. Let it be noted that where it not for the calibre of talent leading the film, this review might not garner the same enthusiasm that I am affording it.
Each of the leads are good in their own right, with Caine delivering a resolute and emotionally determined performance that recaptures the zest of his earlier career. Freeman does “Morgan Freeman” very well and despite his aged screen presence being a recurring motif these days, he still manages to tap into his emotional core for a moving turn as the ailing partner of the three. Arkin is good too, although describing him almost feels pointless. He does what he always does (very well, of course) and slaps down his trademark moroseness and dry wit with ease. Collectively they represent a passing generation of Hollywood, and with their story of neglect and hardship they also highlight an unfortunate injustice in today’s high-speed modern society. Throw in the cheeky support from Christopher Lloyd and Ann-Margaret, as well as Matt Dillon, Kenan Thompson and John Ortiz, and we’re treated to a wonderful ensemble.
The film, however, finds itself driven by an unlikely director, Zach Braff, whose previous directorial efforts were the impressive Garden State and its undervalued follow up Wish I Was Here. With each of those films having been independently made on very low budgets, not to mention being thematically pitched towards an arguably more youthful audience, his involvement with Going In Style is surprising. By attempting to inject his own brand of energy into the film he has consequently unhitched the structural compartments and caused the story to teeter. At one moment he’s exploring personal narratives and the next moment he’s fashioning a classic caper tale, and rarely do the conflicting components mesh. When he centres his focus on the dramatic side of the story, he does so very well in deed, yet his aptitude for adventure leaves a lot to be desired and lets him down considerably. As opposed to the auteur that Braff was establishing himself to be, one can’t help but lament the fact that he’s been reduced to a ‘gun for hire’ here.
Going In Style has a lot going for it and it’s very easy to identify its strengths, but unfortunately the lack of cohesion in the story’s structure makes for a disappointing product. I got a lot of enjoyment from the performances and I laughed at many of the comical situations. I also connected with the dramatic elements and found myself sympathising with their plight, and yet I walked away feeling conflicted by these emotional reactions. On one hand a heartfelt dramatic comedy, and on the other hand a madcap romp with a hare-brained plot.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10