Could you pull off a bank heist, with a little bit of training from the local bad element and a worthy cause behind you? Surely it can’t be that hard. Now ask that same question to 80-year-old you – the answer’s probably a bit different. And yet that’s the scenario Going In Style – Zach Braff’s remake of the 1979 of the same name – posits.
When Joe’s (Michael Caine) bank is robbed by masked criminals while he is there questioning why his mortgage payments have tripled, the seed of an idea is planted. Tired of being cheated out of their due by people and systems younger than them, he and best friends Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Al (Alan Arkin) decide they need to start getting even.
The final straw comes when their pension payments are frozen with no warning by the factory they used to work for, and they’re no longer able to live the already modest lives they already were.
This telling of the tale is decidedly lighter than what came before, opting for a sense of hope and triumph for the trio over some of the darker turns of the original. It’s more concerned with making us laugh (particularly with Christopher Lloyd’s turn as the senile Milton) than tugging at our heartstrings. Really, the two films share little more than broad concept and a couple of character names, which works in the new film’s favour when it comes to updating the story for modern times.
It’s hard to get away from the fact that a lot of things Going In Style touches on are extremely sad, and it more or less hits the right balance between between dark humour and outright pathos. We spend time with Joe, Willie and Al early on as they go about their days, the latter two sharing the rent on a tiny apartment and Joe still supporting his family so that his granddaughter (Joey King) can attend school.
The three of them have become invisible to a society they helped to build, and are slowly being cheated out of what little they have. A scene in which they estimate how long they think they’ll all have to live is presented so matter-of-factly that it’s quite alarming for anyone who’s never had to think about their mortality, and it’s moments like these that provide the film’s emotional core.
The inspiration for the eventual heist comes about in much the same way as other comedies like Horrible Bosses – one guy has a plan so audacious and insane that his friends can’t help but take him seriously. It requires a huge amount of suspension of belief for the audience, but once all three friends are on board it’s hard not to get carried along for the ride.
The film’s second act is thus its best, the ridiculousness of the plot allowing these fine actors to let loose in the type of roles they really don’t get to play very often. Their trial run at a local budget supermarket is a hoot, and some stylistic flourishes in the build-up to the robbery add a contagious joy to those scenes.
But outside of the heist, which is fun and effectively done, Going In Style remains a story about ageing. Films tackling this subject matter with any sensitivity or wit are few and far between (which is why movies like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are so popular) and, while the film lacks some of the depth certain moments call for, it’s refreshing to see these experiences on-screen.
It’s overall an optimistic story, zeroing in on the importance of companionship at any time in our lives, but especially in our twilight years. More than anything, it is with each other that these men find love and support. No mention is made of wives or partners, which seems like a strange omission, but rather Joe and Willie are also given families to ground them. The men in their extended families are painted as either absent or deadbeat, required to learn from their elders what it is to be a good father.
It all works better than it should because of the actors behind the parts, and I’m curious whether it’d be half as entertaining without the wattage of Caine, Freeman and Arkin ushering us along. As it is it’s enjoyable but slightly toothless, even as it flirts with something more poignant.