Freeman, Caine & Arkin are geriatric heist-ers in ‘Going in Style’
Going in Style
Starring Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine & Alan Arkin
Directed by Zach Braff
In theaters April 7, 2017
When the tide of fortune turns against three lifelong retirees, leaving them in desperate financial straits, they hatch a plan to rob the bank that screwed them.
In Hollywood, that’s what called a “high concept” movie, a film with a premise that can be easily, neatly described in just a few words. Hollywood loves high concepts; they’re easy to market and audiences “get” them right away. And if this one sounds familiar, it’s because it was a movie already, in 1979, with George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasburg.
This time around, it’s Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin as Willie, Joe and Albert, the trio of Brooklyn geriatrics who are spurred into action when they find out the steel mill for which they used to work is being shut down and financially reconfigured in a corporate spasm of layoffs, mergers and offshore outsourcing.
To add to the insult and injury, the company’s pension fund has been dissolved and their monthly payments frozen and used to pay off debt—and managed by their local bank, which has also put the hard squeeze on Joe, threatening to foreclose on his house.
Times are tough, the wolf is at the door and Willie, Joe and Albert are down to pinching pennies—and foregoing their usual daily indulgence of dessert at the local diner. But the saucy waitress (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) brings them a serving anyway. “Always have your pie,” she tells them. “Life is short.”
When they decide to get back their pension pie, they seek out and enlist the aid of a “lowlife” (John Ortiz), who agrees to school them in how to plan and plot the robbery. That introduces a snazzy segment in the movie that’s kind of like Grumpy Old Men meets Oceans 11.
Everything about Going in Style is geared for comedy, but it’s impossible to miss the serious, timely theme on which it’s built: greedy companies and institutions that don’t care about customers or employees—or old people. “Banks practically destroyed this country,” says Joe, who was misled with a promotional “teaser rate” by his bank’s loan officer (Josh Pais) and then saw his mortgage payments triple. “They crushed a lot of people’s dreams.”
Director Zach Braff, who starred as Dr. Dorian on TV’s Scrubs and previously directed Garden State and Wish I Was Here, keeps things light and lively and gets fine performances from his three leading men—Oscar winners all around, who share 11 nominations between them—and also from his game supporting cast.
Ann-Margaret plays a sex-kitten grandma with the hots for Albert. Saturday Night Live’s Keenan Thompson makes the most of every moment as a grocery store manager where the three senior citizens go to rehearse their heist. Matt Dillion is a befuddled police detective who’s always one step behind the old-timers. Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd is a crazy neighborhood coot.
And kids almost steal the show. Joey King, who starred on the previous season of Fargo and in last year’s Independence Day, has a significant role as Joe’s adoring teenage granddaughter, Brooklyn. Willie has a cute granddaughter, too—played by young Ashley Aufderheide, whose face on his wristwatch becomes an integral part of the plotline. And Jeremy Schinder gets a chuckle—or two—as a young musician with a yearning to ditch his sax and spread his wings in dance, like Beyoncé.
Braff, working from a screenplay by Theodore Melfi (who directed last year’s Hidden Figures) uses broad, something-for-everybody strokes, even though the movie’s default audience will probably age-shift toward the demo of its three main actors (i.e., older). There’s slapstick, witty banter, quippy one-liners and a cross-generational tone to the humor that never gets smutty or crass. The soundtrack includes tunes by Dean Martin, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke alongside A Tribe Called Quest and Mark Ronson & Mystikal. And there’s one strategically placed F-bomb.
Alongside the funny business, there’s also plenty of sweetness and affection, as when Willie plants a warm kiss on his computer screen on the image of his granddaughter, and Joe dutifully meets Brooklyn every day to walk her home after school.
Early in the movie, Joe floats the stick-up idea to Willie and Al, who give him instant push-back. Younger robbers often fail—or get caught and go to jail, says Willie. What makes Joe think they could pull it off?
“We’ve got skills, experience, knowledge…” Joe points out.
“Arthritis… shingles… gout…” counters Willie.
Going in Style has the ingredients of a warm, welcome night out for moviegoers who don’t want superheroes, bombastic special effects, space aliens, raunchy jokes or 3-D cartoons.
And everybody gets a piece of pie.