For Going in Style, three esteemed actors go all in to re-tell the 1979 comedy of the same name, not just with style, but with a unified rhythm, like riding a tandem bicycle. Morgan Freeman (Last Vegas, Invictus), Michael Caine (The Quiet American, Now You See Me 2), and Alan Arkin (Love the Coopers, Argo) star. Each has an impressive body of work, and together, their films add up to a modern reference volume. They are so comfortable and easy in their manner that nobody’s ego or status competes for the center of the piece or flow of a character’s development. While planning a crazy caper, they take their time painting a picture of friends who rebound from facing pension loss, homelessness, and a life-threatening illness.
Caine’s character, Joe, is the first on the scene. He comes up with the idea of robbing his own bank, after it is robbed while he is there learning he will lose his home.
Joe enthusiastically tells his buddies that the heist was, “Choreographed, like a dance.”
“A conga line right into prison,” Freeman’s character, Willie, responds.
Willie joins Joe, but Albert (Arkin) resists until he realizes his circumstances are more dire, then he predictably agrees. Going in Style’s momentum picks up after the leisurely set-up of the men’s back stories when the trio plans the heist with the help of one “expert” (John Ortiz: Kong: Skull Island, Steve Jobs). This section of the film rolls out in a tighter fashion, as they fine-tune the details and their cover of volunteering at a Knights of Hudson carnival. What is expert about the plan is that the audience isn’t let in on all of the information, so the twists are surprising in the end, almost like the scheme for Ocean’s Eleven.
A few cameos heighten the interest, too. Director Zach Braff, who directed and acted in TV’s Scrubs and his film, Garden State, among others, inserts Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future series, Cold Moon) and Matt Dillon (Crash, TV’s Wayward Pines) into the mix, the former a senile old man, the latter a cop. Ann-Margret (TV’s Ray Donovan, CSI) does a lovely turn as Albert’s love interest. She skillfully seduces and provides support for Al, and they even sing together in a short bit. Young Joey King (Independence Day: Resurgence, TV’s Fargo) is a sweet addition as Joe’s wise granddaughter, and Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live and Maya & Marty adds laughs as a grocery store manager.
The night before the robbery, the three watch Dog Day Afternoon on TV. They joke that it doesn’t end well for Al Pacino’s character, and since Al/Arkin has fallen asleep, Willie, in a quiet moment of caring, gently covers him with a blanket. Going in Style is filled with underplayed humor, followed by underplayed affection. Who better than these gentlemen to accomplish that, especially when their characters all need fortitude when life-threatening situations arise?
Going in Style remains only mildly funny, but Caine, Freeman, and Arkin maintain a delicate balance of humor and pathos, with each actor being equally able to provide both in a substantial way. Their smooth bantering continues off stage, too, during publicity tours, so that Going in Style should be applauded, if only for being a master class in comedy timing.
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