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Review: Going in Style (2017)

Going in Style (2017)

Directed by: Zach Braff

Premise: A remake of the 1979 film. Three retirees (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin) discover that their pensions have been cancelled to pay off corporate debts owed to a bank. The three men plan to rob the bank and collect the remainder of their pensions.

What Works: Going in Style is led by three steady actors and each of them turns in a reliable performance. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin are cast to type and none of them are required to do anything especially challenging but they don’t phone in their performances and the three men have an easy and likable rapport. Each of these characters has his own story. Morgan Freeman is cast as a retiree who is geographically separated from his daughter and granddaughter and is in need of a kidney transplant but he’s too proud to ask for help. Michael Caine’s character faces foreclosure due to a variable rate mortgage while Alan Arkin plays a cranky bachelor. Going in Style is at its best when the film focuses on the human drama. There is an especially sweet relationship between Caine’s character and his granddaughter, played by Joey King, that makes these people accessible and empathetic. In some ways, Going in Style is reminiscent of the Grumpy Old Men films. Like those movies, Going in Style finds both the humor and the drama of old age. The central cast make jokes about being in their twilight years and most of the humor works but behind the comedy is a knowing melancholy about the reality of mortality. The characters also exhibit the wounded dignity of being working men who are at risk of failing to provide for their dependents.

What Doesn’t: Perhaps as part of the film’s Grumpy Old Men appeal, the cast of Going in Style includes Ann-Margret in a supporting role. Unfortunately, she’s mostly wasted in the movie. Margret is just a love interest and she isn’t called upon to do anything other than have sex with Alan Arkin. It’s a waste of Margret’s talents and indicative of a film that most shies away from substance. Going in Style intends to be a popcorn movie, the kind of thing that is never too demanding on its audience, but the picture is too light for its own good. There’s rarely any feeling of genuine stakes and the filmmakers coast on relatively easy appeals, mostly involving old men and their grandchildren. The lack of drama in Going in Style is especially apparent in the heist portion of the movie. Filmmaker Zach Braff does the human drama pretty well but he is not an action director. The planning of the robbery is a string of heist movie clichés and the set piece is rushed through and without tension. The movie really goes awry after the robbery as the FBI catches onto the old men’s trail but is unbelievably inept in its investigation. Despite how much  the filmmakers rely upon heist movie clichés, Going in Style misses some of the important practical details of the bank robbery; the thieves come away with over a million dollars in cash (which itself is unbelievable if they only took the teller’s loose drawer money) but these men have no way to launder it. That means there’s no way for them to live the high life of their dreams without arousing suspicion. Going in Style really gets confused in its ending. This is where the light tone of the movie works against it; these men have stolen a lot of money and essentially behaved in the same way as the corrupt financial figures who stole their pension and the street thugs whose robbery they were imitating. The movie obliquely suggests some kind of moral equivalency between those three groups of thieves but the film doesn’t have the intellectual or dramatic sophistication to handle it and so the moral dimension of Going is Style is sketchy at best.

Bottom Line: Going in Style is a light film that doesn’t have much substance to it. The core cast carry the weak story and make the movie more interesting than it actually is. Taken for what it is, Going in Style is acceptable and sufficiently entertaining, although never more than that.

Episode: #643 (April 16, 2017)