Synopsis – Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, three lifelong pals risk it all by embarking on a daring bid to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money.
My Take – Honestly, despite the negative reception he has been receiving regarding his choices in recent years, I still consider myself fan of Zach Braff. Rising to fame with medical comedy, ‘Scrubs‘, which thanks to the actor’s play and his supporting cast, delighted the fans for many years. His 2004 feature film debut behind the camera, ‘Garden State’, opened to wide acclaim from critics and audience alike and followed it up with the 2014 film ‘Wish I Was Here’, which I personally loved. Joyful and impressed by his unusual style of direction and his mastering of classic slapstick comedy all this years, I was excited by just the idea of him directing three Oscar winning veterans Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin in a heist film! Here, this remake of Martin Brest’s overlooked gem from 1979 replaces three iconic stars — George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg — with three modern-day actors of at least equivalent stature, in a comedy which is a perfect example of how age does not – and should not – deprive actors of comedic spirit. This film explores the feeling of seniority when the past only looks like a presentation of lost opportunities, although here, it seems like getting old means time to ignore authority and commit thievery, well nothing can possibly go wrong, right? Yet, as ridiculous as the premise sounds, there’s some unexpected enjoyment to be had here, mainly from the main cast, who give such good performances to the point that moments of lack of subtlety – from both the script and the direction – are minimized instead of forgiven. Thanks to them, this Zach Braff film works well enough as a breezy, pleasant heist flick, despite the feeling that a lot more could have been done, especially keeping in mind that film tries to address the serious side of mortality, infirmity and financial struggle.
The story follows Joe (Michael Caine) and his other two retired senior friends Albert (Alan Arkin) and Willie (Morgan Freeman), who have been friends for decades and have worked together long enough to earn pensions from Wechsler Steel. After retirement, met each other every day, playing Bocce in the park, hanging out at their local lodge, sharing meals, and watching TV together, to include shows like “The Bachelorette“. It helps that Albert and Willie share a house. Albert is a confirmed bachelor and has no interest in changing his status, in spite of the ongoing flirtations of sweet and sexy grocery store employee Annie (Ann-Margaret). Willie Skypes with his daughter and granddaughter, but can’t visit them because, like his friends, he doesn’t have much money – and he has a serious kidney problem (which he is keeping from his friends). Meanwhile, Joe is struggling to pay his mortgage mainly as he is now providing a home to his divorced daughter and being a devoted grandfather to his teenage granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King), mainly as her drug infused father, Peter (Peter Serafinowicz) seems busy managing a shady medical marijuana shop. The money problems of the three best friends become practically insurmountable when their former company announces that it is moving all its operations out of the country – and taking its pension fund with it. Initially very angry at their former employers and very fearful about their financial futures, they decide to do something about their situation. Joe had recently been at his bank talking to a squirrelly and unsympathetic loan officer (Josh Pais) in a futile attempt to fend off foreclosure when the bank is robbed with impressive efficiency by three masked men using automatic weapons. After the pension bombshell, the three old gents find out that Joe’s bank is managing Wechsler’s finances and Joe suggests robbing that bank to recover their pensions. After some discussion, bickering and persuasion, the guys use Peter’s help to find a man named Jesus (John Ortiz) who agrees to teach, train and mentor the guys in exchange for 25% of the take, if they can avoid tipping their hand to the authorities and actually pull off the robbery, especially with a suspicious FBI agent named Hamer (Matt Dillon) seemingly on to the trio. If the above didn’t spoil it for you, trust me as the film is true to its name, as the trio brings the classic comedy back into style. Fans of the slapstick of yore are going to bust a gut at this film as the timeless styles of the leads continue to shine bright. Director Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent, Hidden Figures) successfully update the 1979 version for the 21st century, by giving the story a more cheery uplift, and by making it a bit more realistic. It also offers a tidy ending that feels miles away from the original’s bittersweet denouement. But it’s the film’s middle third which feels like a mixed bag of subplots and diversions. Between the instigation, the execution, and the cat-and-mouse game between our heroes and the cocky FBI agent there are references to sore knees and musings on how many years they have left. The forced slapstick moments are balanced with a gallows humor that pervades the entire enterprise, as the men contemplate illness, loneliness and longing. While the trailers do promote the more fun atmosphere of the film, don’t let it fool you that it is all happiness and fun and the film emphasizes the end of life generation, highlighting the less than glorious problems of getting older. There are parts that brought me down as they emphasized the sadder qualities of life. Thank goodness for the consistent comedy, because otherwise this could have been a much harder film to watch.
Of all the comedy this film has in its folds, they certainly stuck with the old theme of this film. This is a film that can think of nothing funnier than arranging three Oscar winners in front of a TV to make catty remarks about The Bachelorette. It’s a film that delights at giving one of its elderly stars the munchies and letting another just say the word “munchies.” In a particularly dopey sequence, the characters attempt a dry-run shoplifting of their local supermarket, just for practice—a set piece that ends with Caine zooming down the street on a motorized cart, throwing groceries at the employee in hot pursuit, while Freeman screams from his perch in the basket. There are probably worse uses of our veteran film stars. But during a scene like that one, it’s hard to think of any. And in addition to being funny, the lack of crude comedy also makes this film cute. It’s not all giggles, though. There’s a deeper message here about living your life until the very end, and not sitting back and letting others ruin your life. I’m not sure that the film truly succeeded in that sense or I was getting a little sad at potentially watching my favorite actors realize their own mortality. Strangely enough, this is where the film is at its best. Whether it’s watching these guys tear up at the site of the granddaughters, or just busting each other over the smallest of things, I felt like I was watching them go through real-life issues. It sounds silly, especially considering they’re all doing just fine financially in real life, but I felt really bad for these guys. However, as expected, this film is just plain ridiculous. The believability is off the charts and the writing is not good, to say the least. I like Theodore Melfi a lot, actually, mainly as St. Vincent is one of my favorite films of all time and Hidden Figures was excellent, but I am little disappointed. I get that with a simple story as this, it’s not surprising that much of the story is predictable. Given the theme of the film, you should be able to predict most of the ending, and certainly can guess where things are going to go wrong. Therefore, the uniqueness of this film takes a hit in the story department, the part where it comes across as not as bright is in its efforts of justifying the leads actions. Of course, situations like this can and do very well happen, and are genuine injustices. Michael Cane sells that emotion with a few dramatic scenes involving his granddaughter. It is, however, in dealing with the circumstances of the robbery and the nature of such a situation that it falls short. Again, this is does not get in the way of it being a good and fully enjoyable film; it only keeps it from having that extra level of much appreciated sophistication. Coming to the performances, it should come as no surprise that these three have taken some heat in the past about appearing in mediocre films and giving mediocre performances, with some even accusing them of phoning it in. Luckily, there’s none of that here as you can tell the three of them had a blast filming together and it clearly shows in the final product. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman have comedic timing and delivery down, with clever lines craftily intertwined in the serious dialogue that put today’s writing to shame. Alan Arkin on the other hand is all about the banter and complaining, which for the most part is balanced and well-placed. The trio share great chemistry together, and sell that they are best friends who have faced the challenge called life. They sell the struggles and praise the joys, and do it with such class and minimizing the stupid, mindless banter famous today. In supporting roles, Ann Margaret, John Ortiz, Joey King, Peter Serafinowicz and Christopher Lloyd are likable. Plus the film earns bonus points for casting Matt Dillon as a non-pulsed cocky cop and a humorous Keenan Thompson as the manager of the super-market. On the whole, ‘Going in Style’ is a harmless fun film which despite being far from perfect is worth watching for its three Oscar winning leads who can still carry a film with such class and wit.
Directed – Zach Braff
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 96 minutes