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Friday, April 07, 2017

Going in Style

You don't watch a movie like Going in Style for its plot, or for big laughs.  You watch it to see the chemistry of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, and to revel in their light performances for about 100 minutes.  If that's all you want out of a movie, you'll get your money's worth.  They're having great fun, and are just as much fun to watch.  Sure, we know this material isn't taxing their talents, but it doesn't have to.

The movie is a remake of a 1979 film, where three elderly life-long friends (played in the original by George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg) decided to rob a bank just for fun, and for a chance to feel young again.  The 2017 film ups the stakes quite a bit, and makes its heroes a bit more sympathetic.  They're not turning to crime for kicks, but rather to get back at a financial system that has done them all wrong.  Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Al (Arkin) have worked hard all their lives, only to see their pensions get frozen when the steel company they once worked for shuts down in favor of overseas labor.  Joe is the one who gets the idea to rob the bank when he witnesses a flawlessly performed robbery while he's at his bank trying to deal with an unsympathetic banker about his mortgage.  He's on the verge of losing his home, and believes he got conned into taking a bad deal that has led to his mortgage tripling. 

These men have struggled to get by all their lives, taking jobs on the side whenever they could find it.  Now in their later years, they're faced with the prospect of losing everything they earned.  Willie is also facing some mounting hospital bills, due to his failing health.  It gets to the point that they feel like they have no choice, and decide to steal back the money they feel the bank has taken from them.  From this point on, the movie follows a pretty predictable, and at times sitcom-like plot.  Director Zach Braff goes for broad comedy, and heart tugging emotional moments that can be pretty broad as well, but don't go over the top.  There are some genuinely funny moments here, such as when the three guys try to shoplift from a grocery store in order to get practice for the big bank heist.  There's a sweet (if underdeveloped) subplot concerning Al having a budding relationship with a local woman (Ann-Margaret).  The whole thing seems to be designed to please and never offend.

If that was all there was to Going in Style, it would be hard to recommend, but fortunately the movie has these three old pros in the lead roles to lift it up just a little bit.  It's hard not to be charmed by them whenever they're up on the screen.  Seeing Caine, Freeman and Arkin play off one another, especially when they're at their favorite diner hangout, is just a joy to watch.  They're pretty much playing the kind of roles you would expect them to play in a movie like this, but they do it so well, you don't care.  Caine is the all-around ringleader who holds the group together, and helps them get in touch with a local thug (John Ortiz) who trains them.  Freeman is the gentle, soft-spoken one with a sly sense of humor.  And Arkin is the curmudgeon who secretly has a gentle touch.  These actors slip easily into their respective roles, but they're not simply cashing a paycheck here.  They clearly enjoy working together, and it carries through so that the audience enjoys watching it.

This is a low key, no-thrills movie that works simply on the charm of its actors.  The filmmakers clearly understand this, so they give its stars plenty of time to take center stage.  They are who we have come to see, after all, so it's smart that the movie frequently sits back and just lets the guys work with each other.  I probably would have been happy with an entire movie of them sitting in their diner talking, but we have to get that plot in there, I know.  The fact that the movie doesn't seem to pay it much mind is not such a bad thing in this case.  I also appreciated the fact that these are sharp old guys.  We don't get any jokes about them fumbling around with technology, nor do they sit around talking about Viagra.

Going in Style won't make a big dent in the box office, but I can see it becoming a staple on television, and it being a good way to kill an afternoon.  Sometimes that's all you're looking for in a movie.  This is the kind of movie that never really grabbed me much while I was watching it, but the more I think back on it, I find myself smiling.

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