Film review: Going In Style

David Gritten / 06 April 2017

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin team up to play senior citizen bank robbers in a loose remake of the 1979 version of Going In Style.

It feels like a comic parable for our difficult times – three senior citizens in New York City, suddenly laid off from their jobs with their pensions cruelly frozen, decide to stage a bank robbery - to pay off their bills, look after their families, and get their own back on the same bank that is now threatening their way of life.

This is an agreeable idea, and the film’s three stars, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin (Oscar winners, every one of them), do a decent job of suggesting the neediness behind what is essentially a caper. Joe (Caine) wants to secure the future of his adorable grand-daughter, Willie (Freeman) urgently needs a kidney transplant, while Al (Arkin) mostly needs more spark in his gloomy life.

Read our interview with Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman

The banter between this trio is amusing enough, with lots of gags about old age, slowing down and feeling perpetually exhausted.

As their preparations for the bank heist start to take shape, some of their observations come to sound like political comment: “These banks destroyed this country,” Caine remarks at one point. “And they got away with it. Nothing ever happened to them.” It’s a populist sentiment, fashioned to put the audience firmly on the side of these old boys.

Joe, Willie and Al decide on an easy warm-up for The Big Job – stealing food from a supermarket. Predictably, it doesn’t go that well, though Arkin gets one of the script’s best lines when he tries to outrun a young security guard, but gives up, stops and puts his hands in the air: “This is not an admission of guilt. I’m just tired.”

And when they finally stage the bank robbery, there’s a neat comic touch that indicates their age: the masks they choose to wear are of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.. Yes, these robbers are old enough to feel an affinity with the Rat Pack.

Those with long memories might find this plot oddly familiar, and Going In Style is a loose remake of the 1979 movie starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. But the earlier film had a melancholic, moving quality. The new one may be more densely plotted; the three senior citizens in the original seemed to stage the robbery because they were basically bored and resentful about society’s general indifference to them. If the first film was more subtly shaded, the remake goes more directly for laughs.

Of the three leads, Freeman gives it his all, Arkin, a brilliant serious actor who also has terrific comic timing (as evidenced in Little Miss Sunshine and Argo) feels faintly under-used as Al, a talented sax player whose zest for life has receded, though he does strike up a sizzling affair with an attractive older woman - played by 1960s star Ann-Margret, no less.

Only Caine seems an odd casting choice. His character Joe has supposedly lived in New York for 30 years, yet he’s still as Cockney as Bow Bells. For all that, Caine works hard to help sustain the story’s momentum.

Screenwriter Theodore Melfi (who recently scored a success with the excellent Hidden Figures) has done his best to re-fashion this story in a manner that feels relevant to our times.  In that respect he has largely succeeded. This new Going in Style won’t be winning any awards – but it is pleasant enough entertainment.

Going In Style is in cinemas April 7th

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