Review: Screen treasures Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman can’t overcome the implausible in ‘Going in Style’

Film Critic

“Going in Style,” the story of a trio of bank robbers who are old enough to know better, may not be a federal offense, but it is certainly a misdemeanor.

Yes, stars Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are cinematic treasures, and seeing them riff on screen in this generic geriatric exercise is never less than pleasant. But “Going in Style” never gets beyond mildly amusing. If anything, it uses its gifted veterans to disguise how tired, implausible and overly sentimental the proceedings turn out to be.

Viewers with long memories will remember the original 1979 “Going in Style,” written and directed by Martin Brest and starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as elderly parties who pull off a modest $30,000 bank robbery to relieve the tedium of their retirement lives.


Less a remake than a reimagining, the new “Going in Style” — written by Theodore Melfi and directed by Zach Braff — has upped the ante on every aspect of the original. Nothing wrong with that, times do change after all, but the results turn out to be less than stellar.

Not only has the amount of money available to be taken risen to seven figures (do banks even keep that much cash on hand?) but the rationalization for having these upright citizens break the law has been unconvincingly tied to contemporary frustration with a broken system that favors institutions over individuals. These three may not have voted for Donald Trump, but they share Trump voters’ pain.

Set in Brooklyn, “Going in Style” starts with Joe (Caine) venturing into the magisterial Williamsburg Savings Bank (the real building was used) as if his life depended on the outcome of the visit, which in a sense it does.

The owner of a small house he lives in with his daughter and granddaughter, Joe has had his mortgage payment triple (the result of a teaser rate gone sour) and is facing eviction. Though he gets no satisfaction from the unctuous banker (Josh Pais), Joe’s spirits are momentarily lifted when he witnesses a trio of expert armed and dangerous individuals burst into the bank and walk out with a ton of cash.

Joe’s situation was caused by his pension from Wechsler Steel, where he worked for decades, being frozen when the company was taken over by the conglomerate Semtech. The combination of no money coming in and more needed going out have made him desperate enough to consider taking down a bank.

As luck would have it, Joe still hangs out with two pals from his assembly line days, Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin), very different guys who share an apartment to save on rent. The essence of geniality, Willie pines for his daughter and granddaughter, who live out West and who he can’t afford to visit more than once a year. Albert, on the other hand, is irascibility itself, a jazz saxophonist who once played with Stan Getz and never misses the opportunity for an acerbic reply. Tell him “life is short” and he’ll snap back, “Thanks for the reminder.”


Albert is also something of a chef, and his shopping visits to the local Value Town market have caught the attention of the upbeat Annie (Ann-Margret), who somehow finds his cynicism attractive. Though they all have their grudges as well as the need for money, Joe’s pals resist his bank robbing scheme, but there would be no movie if they said no, so circumstances conspire and the caper is officially on.

In theory, there is no reason why, even in its convoluted state, this idea couldn’t fly, especially with this cast, but it is not to be. For one thing, screenwriter Melfi, whose weakness for sentiment was much better served by his script for “Hidden Figures,” makes everything either obvious or unbelievable.

Not doing the proceedings any favors either is director Braff (“Garden State,” “Wish I Was Here”), whose sense of pace is so lethargic you want to give the whole film a B12 shot.

On the positive side, veteran casting director Avy Kaufman has done a fine job with the supporting cast, including John Ortiz, Matt Dillon and Christopher Lloyd. Without the energy supplied by the actors, especially the firecracker Arkin, “Going in Style” wouldn’t have much of a pulse.

“Going in Style”

Rating: PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: In wide release

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