- Movie Rating -

Going in Style (1979)

| December 25, 1979

I don’t think that it is too keen an observation to say that Hollywood tends to run scared from stories about elderly people.  For the moviegoing audience, the theory goes, old age is too sad, too depressing, too lifeless, too much a reminder of what is to come.  In that vein, they tend to portray the elderly with the tiresome trope of having them be over-sexed, foul-mouthed and ready to party, or they are an oracle of wisdom for lovelorn young people.  Personally, I hate it.

Going in Style is a movie that observes three elderly men with a view that I have never seen before.  They are friends, Joe (George Burns), Al (Art Carney) and Willie (Lee Strasberg) who share expenses by living in the same apartment in New York City.  Their days are long.  They go to the park to feed the pigeons, they have tea and they try to keep from going insane from the boredom of the day-to-day routine.

And then, the routine is broken when Joe gets the ridiculous idea to rob a bank.  Doing so would be a nice chunk of change in their pockets.  If they got nabbed, they’d spend some time in jail, maybe three years – hey, it’s free room and board.

The new of this idea lands on Al and Willie with a silence that is comedy gold.  They don’t react right away.  The words hand in the air without commentary as if they’re trying to decide if Joe is actually serious.  It’s the kind of moment that only actors of this caliber could create.  Even better is the fact that neither can really muster up one good argument against the idea.  Why not?  Banks are insured, right?

What’s interesting about Going In Style is just how grounded the whole thing seems.  The reality of their situation is carried over into the caper.  When they pull off the job, they are able to get away with it because the bank employee’s reactions are genuine.  I mean, how would you feel if you saw three old Jewish guys walking into a bank wearing Groucho disguises?  You’d think you the mark in a practical joke.

What’s interesting is what director Martin Breast does after the robbery.  The men don’t become media sensations, nor do they become career thieves.  They get a new lease on life, and this breeds joy and complication.  What is special about this film is the way in which Breast keeps the film at a very steady balance, moving it back and forth between the ridiculousness of the crime and the reality of their situation.  The ending is bittersweet, but we don’t fault the movie for that.  It feels real.

The three actors are great because they are never painted as cute.  George Burns does much better here than he did in this last picture, the cutesy-poo Just You and Me Kid and manages to create a new character – it’s not just George Burns again, it’s something unusual for him.  Ditto Art Carney who, ever since his Oscar, had fallen into the well of bad TV specials and movies that weren’t worth his time.  He’s really good here.  And the legendary Lee Strasberg, so good in The Godfather Part II, proves that that role wasn’t just a fluke.  His character here is a fully realized soul, not just a piece of stunt casting.

Going in Style is a treat.  It’s one of those little movies that you kind of treasure only because you know how it might have been done in lesser hands.  It’s a delicate film, a funny film, a little film that’s worth your time.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized