The elderly bank heist film “Going in Style” could be considered a sort of geriatric “Hell or High Water.” Instead of volatile young men, the bank robbers are slow-moving retirees, but they’re just as angry at American banking institutions, which have swindled them out of their slice of the American dream in the form of shady mortgages. Almost a decade after the housing crisis of 2008, the bitterness remains. This isn’t just a heist; it’s retribution.
While “Going in Style” shares themes with last year’s surprise indie hit, its premise is far older (ahem). The film, starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, is a remake of a 1979 film of the same name, starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. “Hidden Figures” writer/director Theodore Melfi has updated the screenplay for the 2017 era, while “Scrubs” star and “Garden State” filmmaker Zach Braff takes on the role of director.
But “Going in Style” shares far more with “Hell or High Water” than the original in terms of social commentary and ultimate morals. It’s powered by an engine of blue-collar economic anxiety, drawing on the very real fears about the loss of American manufacturing jobs, Social Security and pensions. For our three main characters, the financial stability that was promised to them for their golden years is ripped away by untrustworthy global corporations and exploitative banks.
All these three pals want is their own piece of the pie — so they set out to getting themselves some pie. Caine, as Joe, is the ringleader, who finds inspiration during a bank robbery, where the criminal tells Joe that our culture has a duty to take care of its elders, which surely isn’t the case in the present-day U.S. of A.
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This biting cultural critique is the stuff that really draws blood in “Going in Style,” not so the stale generation-gap jokes that make up its comedy. It seems the movie’s going to be all riffs about coffee prices and changing technology and the wonders of medical marijuana these days, but thankfully that fades to the background while the trio set their plan in motion.
You can’t watch Michael Caine take on a role like this and not think of the classic gangster and heist roles that made him a star in the 1960s and ‘70s, in films such as “Get Carter” and “The Italian Job.” There are shades of that here, but he’s been defanged for this more family-friendly crime film. He’s breaking the law for friendship and family, and “Going in Style” eggs him on every step of the way.
For a director who made a statement with 2004’s “Garden State” (though the years haven’t been kind to that film), and even with the whimsical “Wish I Was Here,” it’s odd that “Going In Style” is directed so anonymously by Braff. It’s just a serviceable guiding of the story along its track, with a few stylistic flourishes here and there. Overall, it doesn’t bear any stamp that it’s Braff’s work (which could be a good thing for him).
“Going in Style” expresses a kind of anti-capitalist, working-class rhetoric that serves as a momentary balm for existential economic worries, but it’s the kind of fantasy that only exists in the movies. Fun to watch, but ultimately just a facade.
Going in Style
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Joey King, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd.
Director: Zach Braff.
Running time: 1:36.
Rated: PG-13, for drug content, language and some suggestive material.