Going in Style

Going in Style. Warner Bros. 1979.

Before watching the movie:

I didn’t realize until I started looking for the poster that there was what appears to be a remake a couple of years ago. While the combination of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin sounds pretty compelling, I’m also drawn to the idea of seeing George Burns and Art Carney together too. Lee Strasberg is not as big a name, but I’m sure he’ll probably hold his own with the other two.

After watching the movie:

Joe, Al, and Willie are in the doldrums of retirement. Every day they leave their shared apartment in Queens to sit on a park bench. One day Joe announces he’s bored of the routine and casually suggests that the other two join him in a stickup. Joe figures that they succeed, they get a lot of money to make their retirement more interesting, and if they fail, the jail time is free room and board followed by a big stack of social security checks. Though none of them have experience with crime (Joe claims he did “some stealing in the War”), Al and Willie decide to go along with it. The caper goes off just as planned, but the excitement is much more impactful on their lives than expected.

This movie is much more about being old and lonely than it is about senior citizens robbing a bank. I expected more madcap comedy, but the main tone delivered is somber irreverence. Nothing goes at madcap pace for retirees. I expected the robbery to be the funniest part, but it’s over very quickly. They go in, pull guns, and collect the money. Nothing goes wrong in terms of executing the crime, no plans are changed on the fly, they hatch a plan and they pull it off, and though eventually the authorities do close in, we never learn what “glaring mistakes” the “obvious amateurs” made that tipped them off. Joe’s plan even accommodates getting caught, so that’s not a negative outcome to fear.

Burns and Carney are very reserved. They certainly demonstrate their comedic skills, but in a quieter way than clear-cut punchlines. Of the trio, the broadest comedy comes from Willie, the one who’s basically just going along with his friends and isn’t really invested in pulling off a caper beyond the fact that this is what they’re doing to get out of the house today. He’s also the first one to leave the story, because this movie is really not interested in the broad comedy I was expecting.

There’s really only one moment that I would consider to be a real emotional study that could qualify for drama, but this movie isn’t exactly comedic either. It has its moments of levity, but it’s mostly introspective alternating with plot advancement. Not much is funny after the bank robbery, but not much is emotionally fraught either. It just kind of continues from one scene to the next, with surprises along the way that take it in new directions, but ultimately arriving more or less where it looked like it was going from the beginning. Which sounds a lot like the view of retired life that it’s trying to depict.

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