Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Movie Review: Going In Style (2017)



When actors get older, they usually end up as either characters related to the lead or mentor figures that are meant to guide the lead; senior lead actors aren’t exactly the most popular thing in the mainstream. Well, to a point, at least. I say that because, more recently, we’ve been seeing older respected actors getting lead parts in recent films… except it’s usually done to appeal to younger audiences. This means that we end up with these established names basically sacrificing their dignity at the altar of ‘It’s funny because it’s old people doing it”. Ignoring how I just don’t get the automatic comedy that’s supposed to arise from such an idea, I can’t be the only one who thinks that it’d be a nice idea if this wasn’t the go-to characterization that filmmakers go to for older actors. Like, at least some stable sense of variety in-between the hard-drinking and weed-smoking seniors would be appreciated. With these preconceptions in mind, is this film going to stick to the status quo or are we going to get something at least a little bit different? This is Going In Style.

The plot: Best friends Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin), all retired steel workers living off of their senior pension from the company, discover that their pension is being frozen while the company is being restructured. With all three of them needing their pension now more than ever, they decide that if the bank is going to steal their money, then they are going to steal it right back.

Well, so much for being worried about the acting here because, at least from our main trio, their performances are worthy of their respective pedigrees. Caine ends up bolstering most of the film, with the story largely focusing on him, and he delivers wizened anger incredibly well when it’s called for. Also, his scenes with his family are subtly heart-wrenching. Freeman, likewise, channels discontent and irritation with his circumstances in a way that (mostly) keeps him his dignity. Then again, few people can look dignified while sitting in the basket of an electric scooter while evading a cop on foot. Arkin, in terms of being curmudgeonly, is probably the most dour of the trio, but he still manages to sell elderly pessimism without being too depressing in the process. As for the rest of the cast, it’s not nearly as consistent. Matt Dillon as the main detective is rather bland, Caine’s family is okay (even if, like the others, they’re underutilized), Peter Serafinowicz as Caine’s stepson is decent, Kenan Thompson makes a weird appearance here, John Ortiz as the criminal mentor who shows our leads the ropes is good with some nice exchanges next to Caine, Josh Pais as the bank teller is insanely obnoxious, to the point where I wished that the heist involved actual bullets, and Christopher Lloyd… ugh… he pretty much embodies the ‘older well-known actor’ trope in the worst way possible. If you thought A Million Ways To Die In The West made a mockery of his legacy, this is somehow even worse.

Since this is the year of surprises when it comes to cinema, I probably no right being as shocked as I was but the fact remains: This genuinely feels like a story worthy of these actors. We do get a few instances of fill-in-the-blank comedy with them making a getaway on a scooter and smoking weed but, for the most part, this is a film that is taking its main characters quite seriously. Between Joe’s curmudgeonly raging against the machine, Willie’s want for familial bonding and Albert’s perpetual pessimism, our main group has set-in-stone character traits that allow them to actually be characters, rather than just walking vehicles for cringe humour as is usually the case. I don’t know how close this is to the original, seeing as this is a remake of a 70’s flick, but the way it frames their supposed-to-be impotent anger at the banking system that left them in the dust feels right at home in today’s market. With how it depicts American capitalism, it’s almost like the senior answer to Money Monster, only it doesn’t feel like we’re beaten over the head nearly as much or as hard. Points are also deserved for how it shows a lot of modernization, with a rather key scene taking place in a weed dispensary along with frequent instances of current technology in use throughout, but without going with the tired gag of how old people don’t “get” modern tech. When everyone and their grandmother knows their way around the Internet, and have been able to for quite some time now, seeing this is weirdly refreshing.

Even with my initial Dirty Grandpa-influenced expectations in tow, that still wouldn’t be enough to get me not to see a heist film. I’m not exactly sure what it is but I have a definite weakness for this genre regardless of its window dressing. However, as would probably be expected considering the age of the people involved, this isn’t exactly the most intricate heist film out there. It follows the basic blueprint well enough with the planning and the initial panic when something goes wrong during the big event, as well as the hard-nosed authority figure hunting for them, but it’s rather straight-forward as caper stories go. Hell, when they get to the point of doing what I’m guessing is the big reveals on how they managed to succeed like they did, it warrants little more than a mild “huh”. Honestly, the most intense scenes of the film are the ones that are further removed from the actual heist, usually involving Caine lashing out in frustration at how much he and his friends have been screwed over. The actual catharsis for all that, though, doesn’t match up to it.

The reason why this feels as milquetoast as it does when it comes to the actual criminal element is most likely down to the guy who penned this remake: Theodore Melfi, also known as the guy who gave us Hidden Figures just a few months ago. I’m singling him out because, honestly, this suffers from the same main issue that Figures did: It feels really friggin’ safe. As much as we see why the leads are doing the heist in the first place, and the extenuating reasons to back it up, there’s a surprising lack of tension behind all this. It’s like watching a car race towards a brick wall and then discovering that it’s actually a pillow fort painted to look like a brick wall. Rough analogy, I know, but hear me out on this one. When dealing with crime stories, even the ones meant for more general audiences usually have some form of grit to them. Some defining aspect that solidifies that, as well-intentioned as they are, these are people who are still breaking the law. It’s that rebellious dash of danger to the proceedings that would make the criminal act itself, and the surrounding police investigation, feel like there is something at stake. Here, because of how safely everything is presented from front-to-back, there’s none of that here. I get it, this is a comedic work, but if you’re going to write (or rewrite as is the case here) an outlaw story, it’s a fairly basic assumption that you would make them actually come across as outlaws. When Annie’s initially unwelcome advances towards Albert causes more warning signals than the literal warning signals in the bank, there’s that sense that something is missing from the equation.

All in all, even with its sanded-off feel towards bank robbery, this is still a rather pleasant watch. The acting is mostly solid, and the ones who falter are the ones on-screen for far less time than the good ones, the direction from indie messiah Zach Braff is pretty slick, and while the writing leaves a fair bit to be desired, it still manages to get across pathos in connection to the whos and whys of the story to create some genuine impact. But beyond all that, this is probably one of the few films of late that features older actors in the lead that doesn’t just resort to them being the vessels for crass jokes; whether through the actors themselves or the film crew or both, it’s nice seeing people leave films like this with their dignity intact. It’s better than Badrinath Ki Dulhania, as the straight-forwardness of this film actually made for a more enjoyable experience overall. BKD was probably better written than this, but it still had a little too much holding back in the comparison. However, it doesn’t fare as well as Gold, which was a lot more emotionally turbulent and was all the more engaging because of it.

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