Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Martin Brest directed this gem of a comedy-drama, the hilarious action comedy
Midnight Run and a lot of turkeys,
finally winding up with his name on last year's kiss-of-death comedy Gigli.
This first feature is a perfectly appointed small-scale drama that uses a silly-sounding idea
to make a number of cogent and thoughtful observations about aging and dying. It's
certainly not mawkish, and the excellent trio of superannuated leading men carry the tale with
grace and aplomb.
Social security retirees Joe, Al and Willie (George Burns, Art Carney and Lee
Strasberg) are so bored with doing nothing in their lives that they decide to rob a bank together.
Joe characterizes it as a no-lose situation - either they get away with the money,
or they go to jail and will simply have more social security checks waiting for them when they
get out. Or they can get shot. With two of them pushing 80 with no real relatives left, that's
okay too. Al "borrows" some pistols from his nephew Pete (Charles Hallahan) and with silly
disguises at the ready, they use a taxi as a getaway car in their perfect crime. Willie was at first
reluctant to go in on the caper, but shows uncommon cool during the robbery ...
Going in Style is simplicity itself, charting an unlikely but far from ridiculous concept to
its logical end. The three elderly actors - two comedians and one famous acting teacher -
eschew the idea of playing cute or upstaging one another and instead create real characters for their
doddering old coots. The story respects them and doesn't go for cheap humor. It's serious but it also
doesn't make them pay for their crime in any cruel way. Al, Joe and Willie have nothing to lose,
a situation that frees them to do whatever they want. They discover that robbing a bank isn't as
hard as they thought it might be. Not that they can seriously expect to get away scot-free ...
Martin Brest's screenplay keeps the robbery tense but light. In a parody of traditional caper
movies, the trio collect their necessary props and fumble foolishly while trying to get the
right-caliber ammunition into the guns they're going to use.
There is, it seems, a bit of cheating during the heist itself. The old men wave their loaded pistols
in the faces of the bank customers. They're such decent guys, you'd think they'd be too rational to
risk harming innocent victims with an accidental shooting. And too smart not to wonder what they'd
do if some cops showed up and blasted them down before they had a chance to surrender.
But the story really turns intelligent after the robbery, with a number of pleasant adventures and
surprises that pay off the characters as well as does Al and Joe's luck in Las Vegas. Each old man is
given a showcase moment. Lee Strasberg does a soliloquy about a painful memory of
beating his beloved child, a boy that he has survived by many years. Art Carney is a handful of years
younger than the other two, and does a little dance in Manhattan with a sidewalk steel band. Showbiz
icon George Burns pulls out an old album and slowly breaks down in tears at photos from 50 and 60
years ago. One of the women with him in a photo appears to be Gracie Allen,
and we feel like crying too. The moment is not overplayed. Although Burns kept acting for about
fourteen more years, this is his best late-career performance.
There's a little bit of confusion in the last part of the picture. Somebody gets arrested and we
never find out exactly how the cops closed in. We also wonder why certain relatives aren't
investigated to see if they've been spending large amounts of money. George Burns holds the finale
together with his warm stoicism. We admire men in the movies who show us how
to die with dignity, even when they're ineffectual little men like Burns' Joe.
Warners' DVD of Going in Style (an apt title that prepares us for worse things than what
happens) is almost perfect. The restrained and simple cinematography is nicely rendered and the
detail of 16:9 enhancement makes the picture look teriffic on a large monitor. The two extras
are a clever trailer and a 1979 segment from The Dinah Shore Show with Art Carney and George Burns
plugging their picture. Carney mugs and then Burns comes on as a closer. Burns has his cigar,
and we realize suddenly that he was able to drop his TV and radio persona for the movie simply by
not smoking. Burns wisely knows that the years let a person get away with anything, just like the
bank-robbing septigenarians in the film - he pulls off a sly dirty joke on afternoon television.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Going in Style rates:
Supplements: trailer, excerpt from Dinah Shore Show
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: March 21, 2004
1. I remember Going in Style fondly because my
writer pal from college James Ursini landed a job doing research for it. For a while we were working
on the same studio lot and I'd spend my breaks running over to join him as he screened old gangster
movies for a montage planned for Martin Brest's movie. Sitting in the screening room watching the likes
of The Big Shot and Machine Gun Kelly (in a screwy SuperScope print), we got to pretend
we were moguls instead of pee wee players.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson