Film Review: ‘Going in Style’

Going in Style review
Atsushi Nishijima/MGM/REX/Shutterstock

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin are the actors you want to see as Brooklyn codgers who rob a bank, but this remake of the 1979 caper substitutes shtick for experience.

In “Going in Style,” the 1979 Hollywood fable of old age in America that’s still remembered with a certain scrappy fondness, George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg play brittle old fogies who team up to rob a bank, but it wouldn’t be quite accurate to call the result “a heist movie.” The three hatch their crime as a way to escape loneliness, and to get their juices flowing — to rage against the dying of the light — and the robbery itself is mostly a ramshackle joke, with our cranky stooped codgers barely disguised by Groucho glasses.

The slick new remake of “Going in Style,” on the other hand, really is a heist movie. Our heroes, now played by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, team up to rob the Williamsburg Savings Bank in their native Brooklyn, and we see them prepping for the crime in a full-on, split-screen montage of strategic training rituals. They work out a meticulous alibi, mingling with friends during a charity carnival and slipping away just long enough to execute the robbery. And when they finally enter the bank, wearing rubber masks of the Rat Pack (Frank, Dino, and Sammy), they don’t carry themselves like old folks. They could be veteran crooks out of any of the hundreds of heist films made over the last decades. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to watch the crime — there’s a satisfaction to seeing a heist executed without a hitch — but at the new “Going in Style,” we’re less in the real world than we are in Movie World, a place of processed crime and processed drama.

The movie is a feel-good concoction: not a terrible way to spend 96 minutes, but not an entertainment experience that anyone’s going to remember in 38 years, or maybe even next week. The picture was directed by Zach Braff, who as a filmmaker has only two features to his credit, the soulful romantic cult film “Garden State” (2004) and the navel-gazing SoCal mess “Wish I Was Here” (2014). After the debacle of that last film, Braff, in theory, was right to sign up as a gun for hire on a crowdpleaser like this one. If only he’d brought it a bit more personality and panache! Rocked the boat a little! “Going in Style” coasts along on the testy spiky charms of its leading men, who have 246 years of life on earth between them (Caine is 84, Freeman 79, and Arkin 83), but this is nothing more than an amiable connect-the-dots movie. If anything, it makes the 1979 “Going in Style” look even more audacious, like a comedy about three King Lears.

The new version draws on up-to-the-minute themes of economic outrage, but in a way that’s so cautious and market-tested it’s as if the filmmakers had pushed a button marked “add incendiary topical issue here.” Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman), and Albert (Arkin) are old pals who toiled together for decades at the Wechsler Steel Co. and are now living on comfortable — if modest — pensions. Joe is putting up his divorced daughter and granddaughter, so that they can save for college; Willie and Albert are roommates who have shared a house for 25 years. But their lives come tumbling down when Wechsler, following a corporate merger, ships its manufacturing overseas and dissolves its pension fund.

There’s more than enough ripped-from-the-news material here to root “Going in Style” in the current moment, but one of the problems with the movie is that by checking off these issues, the film acts as if it’s done its dramatic work. What it doesn’t do is give the characters an individualized sense of having emerged from the past. They’re just Grumpy Old Sitcom Men.

But often irresistible ones. Caine is the star who makes a slightly deeper impression. His Joe is the group’s ringleader, and that’s because he has had to endure a double scandal: In addition to the trashing of his pension (which, if our government were less tethered to corporate money, would be unambiguously illegal), he got suckered by the bank into a radically adjustable mortgage, which has shot up to the point that he’s about to lose his home. Caine, who has done many middling movies but isn’t capable of phoning in a performance even when he’s trying to, reacts to all of this with a witty cold anger that is only heightened by age. Freeman, whose character is more or less defined by his need for a kidney transplant, is the mellow one, and Arkin, as the whistling-past-the-gallows Albert, seems the most hopeless — at least, until he gets caught up in a flirtation with Annie, played by Ann-Margret, who at 75 still has her extraordinary saucy radiance. Let’s call their romance a senior-citizen fairy tale.

Who is the audience for “Going in Style”? Adults, older or not, who want to see a caper movie pitched to the bucket-list set. Yet it’s worth recalling that in 1979, at least one member of the cast of “Going in Style” — Burns — was in the midst of a career revival that straddled all demos. (That same year, he costarred with Brooke Shields in “Just You and Me, Kid.”) Caine, Freeman, and Arkin are actors who long ago proved that they transcend age. But the “Going in Style” remake is an example of how “likable” prefab filmmaking can shoot itself in the foot. The movie will probably find a modest audience for a weekend or two, but it could have been so much bigger if it didn’t reduce senior citizens to sympathetic data cards. If it truly gave us something to see.

Film Review: 'Going in Style'

Reviewed at Cinépolis Chelsea, New York, April 6, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production

A Warner Bros. release of a New Line Cinema production, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune, and De Line Pictures. Producer: Donald De Line. Executive producers: Bruce Berman, Tony Bill, Samuel J Brown, Michael Disco, Toby Emmerich, Andrew Haas, Jonathan McCoy.

Crew

Director: Zach Braff. Screenplay: Theodore Melfi. Camera (color, widescreen): Rodney Charters. Editor: Myron I Kerstein.

With

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Joey King, Matt Dillon, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd, Kenan Thompson, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, John Ortiz, Peter Serafinowicz.

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  1. Mag Mitchell says:

    I laughed out loud, enjoyed all the music, even the rap, and loved seeing the actors so alive and active. The plot was way out, but cleverly developed. It was great seeing Ann Margaret, and the relationships in the families and the three main actors were warm and lovely to see.

  2. Tricia says:

    My daughter and I laughed throughout the movie. We would both see it again because its fun to laugh.

  3. Mary says:

    I LOVED THIS MOVIE!!!!! Treat yourselves 👏👏👏👏👏 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

  4. Victoria says:

    Going through a bit of a rough patch in my life and decided to see Going in Style today, not expecting much. Happy to say I was DELIGHTED by it. Loved performances by all three actors. Arkin was especially hilarious and Caine had some very moving moments. Audience laughed out loud. Highly recommend it. By the way: although it was a 70 degree in a New York State town that hasn’t seen the sun or warmth in a month, the theater this afternoon was PACKED.

  5. J. Miller says:

    Sorry Mr. Gleiberman – saw ‘Going Out In Style’ on Friday 7th April (ODEON-9 cinema Complex in Blanchardstown, Dublin IRELAND and let me tell you – it’s a very funny film. The audience that night had a large mix of ages and backgrounds and enjoyed it very much. So what if some of the film’s plot was far fetched? The script was good – the film flowed and it delivered on laughs. All the characters were interesting and it wasn’t predictable. My partner and I felt it started us off on a great weekend. The movies are about entertaining and this film did just that. Money well spent and wish it well.

  6. It's golden says:

    Alan Arkin always makes me laugh since I saw him in the In Laws. I’ll probably stream it on Fandango

  7. cadavra says:

    Seems less like a remake of the original and more like one of THE LOVE PUNCH, the same-plotted Pierce Brosnan/Emma Thompson romp of a few years back. Hope this is half as good!

  8. fuzzman656 says:

    This GARBAGE is DOA.

  9. tjchurch2001 says:

    Every time I see an ad for this, I think (& often say aloud), “I liked it better when it was called ‘The Crew’ w/Richard Dreyfuss & I forget who else.”

    I can’t believe Zach got involved in this after literally writing his career’s continuance after “Scrubs”, & it being AMAZING work like “Garden State”! (Film & soundtrack are/were awesome!!) My guess? “Going In Style” is what he decided to title it, betting it would be the start of his career’s downward spiral.

    • RS says:

      If you didn’t realize that The Crew owed it’s existence to the original Going In Style, then it’s not surprising you’d make this erroneous connection.

      Also, how did you arrive at the conclusion that Braff came up for the title of his film on his own, when it’s a REMAKE?

      • tjchurch2001 says:

        Nobody should question erroneous mistakes when they have already placed apostrophes in places they don’t belong within the same sentence. (Also, “Crew” owed its existence mainly to bad decisions & money-hungry losers.)

        Also, anyone can claim anything is a remake these days, the same way Webb would probably wish to claim his Spider films were remakes of Raimi’s, when the fact is the connection is obvious given one’s surname & the other’s title.

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