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Going in Style

Going in Style
Warner DVD
1979 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 97 min. / Street Date March 30, 2004 / 19.98
Starring George Burns, Art Carney, Lee Strasberg, Charles Hallahan
Cinematography Billy Williams
Production Designer Stephen Hendrickson
Art Direction Fred Price, Gary Weist
Film Editor C. Timothy O'Meara, Robert Swink
Original Music Michael Small
Written by Martin Brest from a story by Edward Cannon
Produced by Tony Bill, Leonard Gaines, Fred T. Gallo
Directed by Martin Brest

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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
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

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