There is a weird and wonderful little heart beating inside Going in Style, Zach Braff's latest film starring Oscar winners Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules, Hannah and her Sisters), Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), and Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) as three lifelong friends struggling to get by whose plans for a quiet retirement go up in smoke when their pension funds are lost to a corporate takeover. Determined to fight back against the system that has constantly betrayed them, the three come up with a plan to rob the very bank that double-crossed them on more than one occasion.
If you go into Going in Style expecting to see three Oscar winning performances from three former Oscar winners, not to mention the added presence of two-time Oscar nominee Ann-Margret (Tommy, Carnal Knowledge) and Oscar nominee Matt Dillon (Crash), then you'll be likely to head for the auditorium doors with a frown on your face as the closing credits roll. Going in Style is a low-key, entertaining winner of a film with a predictable storyline, a quirky heart and an affection for its characters that has become a trademark for director Zach Braff (Garden State, Wish I Was Here).
Going in Style isn't a brilliant film, but it's a consistently entertaining film that is elevated greatly by three immensely gifted actors who could've easily phoned in these performances but avoid doing so.
Braff has always had a tendency to showcase his characters "as is," an approach that worked far more successfully in Garden State than it did in Wish I Was Here, though I do fancy myself a fan of both films. This film, based upon a 1979 film of the same name, transcends its formula precisely because the relationships here feel so completely organic and the characters, quirky and raw and cantankerous, become people that you actually care about even as they start making some rather questionable choices.
Michael Caine, who's done his share of phoning it in before (Jaws 4, anyone?), is instead the cream of the crop here as Joe, who seemingly has the most to lose financially here as his house is nearing foreclosure by the very bank involved in his company's pension fiasco. Morgan Freeman's Willie, on the other hand, has lived with Arkin's Al for years while still managing to harbor a fairly major secret and pining to be able to visit his granddaughter more than once a year. Freeman infuses Willie with that same ole' likability that has caused American moviegoers to fall in love with him, while also at times almost achingly portraying a quiet desperation that gets slowly revealed over the course of the film's just over 90-minute running time. Alan Arkin gives the film its spark as Al, an eternal pessimist who's been living to die for years and who tries, but mostly fails, to reject the flirts and salutations of Ann-Margret's Annie.
Going in Style is a comedic heist movie with a storyline that brings to mind the recent Oscar nominee Hell or High Water because of the way that Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi make us believe in, and I'd dare say even support, the most outlandish plans of our trio. There's a righteousness to everything that unfolds, not a cheapened one disguised as feel good, but an incredibly genuine one reflected not only in the almost Robin Hood-like behaviors of our bandits but in the relationship, surprisingly not played for laughs, with John Ortiz's Jesus, whom they offer 25% to help them learn the ins and outs of robbing a bank.
The supporting players aren't given nearly as much to do, though Ann-Margret's spirit is alive and well and a blast to watch and Christopher Lloyd's rather extended cameo as Milton steals every scene he's in. The same is true for Kenan Thompson as a store manager dealing with our trio's "practice" attempt at stealing. On the flip side, Matt Dillon barely gets one-note to play as a detective tasked with tracking down our trio and most of the familial relationships, while adorable, are never really developed.
Going in Style feels like the sort of middle-of-the-road comedy that Jack Nicholson found himself doing before he took an extended break, though it never reduces itself to some of the horrid comedies that DeNiro has reduced himself to in recent years. This is a good film, not a great one, and a film good enough to likely win over the film's obviously older target audience. I laughed out loud several times throughout the film but, perhaps more importantly, I found myself feeling much better by film's end than I did when I sat down in the auditorium. While Going in Style may be predictable, sometimes familiar is funny and a film that makes you feel good is good enough.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic