DIR: Zach Braff • WRI: Theodore Melfi • PRO: Donald De Line • DOP: Rodney Charters • ED: Myron I. Kerstein • DES: Anne Ross • CAST: Morgan Freeman, Joey King, Ann-Margret, Michael Caine, Christopher Lloyd
Chances are that not very many people remember the 1979 version of Going in Style. It was a bittersweet comedy about three pensioners, Joe, Albert, and Willie, bored out of their wits until one of them devises a plan to rob a bank. While not exactly filled with laughs, the chemistry between its co-stars, Art Carney, George Burns, and Lee Strasberg, helped to add substantial weight to the overall film, often turning into morbid territories that hasn’t been seen in Hollywood much since outside of ’70s American cinema.
Its obscurity is probably to the advantage of this modernisation, directed by Zach Braff (not funded by Kickstarter this time). In the roles now are Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, who lend their personalities with minimal results to say the least. Joe (Michael Caine) visits his local bank to be informed of the repossession of his house, just as he’s interrupted by bank robbers. Later on, he discovers that not only is the factory where he works being shut down, but pension savings have been removed as well, leaving Joe and his friends, Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin), without a penny. Partly out of frustration and partly out of adrenaline from the robbery, Joe makes the suggestion to rob the very banks robbing them, and soon the trio find themselves planning their own heist without any knowledge on how to pull it off.
There’s a significant distinction between Braff’s version and the original by Martin Brest (Midnight Run; Beverly Hills Cop) and it’s in its setup. While the new Joe is inspired by the bank robbery he was witness to, in Brest’s film, Joe proposes the bank robbery completely out of the blue. The spontaneity creates the comedy of the situation and the boredom of their lives as elderly men is sufficient enough for both the audience and characters to believe in the premise. It’s commendable for screenwriter Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures; St. Vincent) to not resort to imitation of the source material, but in its place is a general air of safeness that strips the original of its most interesting elements.
Going in Style is a film about aging and mortality. It’s not simply about three old men robbing a bank but about three people finding their remaining years an increasingly depressing experience. To its credit, the remake acknowledges this at times, especially during a conversation where Caine, Freeman, and Arkin all estimate how long they have left to live, delivered with a striking banality. Aside from small moments like this, its concentration on the heist, and only the heist, makes the emotional impact of its story greatly suffer as a result. There’s very little to set this comedy apart from the other aging men comedies in recent years, relying on the same tired jokes of not understanding the modern world or reinstating that some of our favourite actors are old now.
Braff’s style is muted here, which might alienate fans of Garden State and Wish I Was Here, but the direction is competent and stands out above the rest of American comedies in recent memory. The central and most condemning problem is in its cast, however. Despite starring alongside each other for six films now, Caine and Freeman act as though they’ve never seen one another in their entire lives, while Alan Arkin channels Lee Strasberg’s performance adequately. There’s a sense that the three actors are not committed to the material they’re working with; acting out emotions and actions but never the characters they’re supposed to be. Bizarrely, the one true standout from the film is Kenan Thompson, who steals the entire film in a brief cameo as a supermarket manager, delivering more funny lines in a few brief minutes than anyone else. Going in Style is not a bad film by any means, but its biggest crime is being an unimpressionable one.
12A See IFCO for details
Going in Style is released 17th April 2017