Going In Style (1979) – A Review
George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg are senior citizens living together and getting by on their pension checks. They have their daily routine down – having their morning coffee, sitting in the park, reading the newspaper, and the monotony is wearing Burns down.
Burns wants to add some excitement to their lives and suggests they do a stick up. He figures if they either get away with it or not their lives won’t be any worse off then they are now. Carney and Strasberg agree and the three set out to rob a bank together.
It’s not just an amusing caper comedy, but also a dramatic emotional tale of aging, loss and friendship directed by Marin Brest.
The story begins with the three elderly pals wiling their days away when Burns makes the suggestion of knocking off a bank in a very matter of fact funny way. That alone propels amusing comedy as the trio plan everything out in such innocuous ways that it’s hard to feel they’re much of a threat to anyone. The movie manages to take this unrealistic plan they have and make it all perfectly believable and endearing.
The movie poster featured cartoony renditions of the three men in their Groucho novelty glasses disguises. It’s sort of an unfair way to pigeonhole the movie as a simply a silly caper comedy – it’s a much richer story than just seeing three old men try to rob a bank.
Make no mistake, there’s plenty of amusing scenes in the buildup to their robbery. Burns, Carney and Strasberg make the most of some really sharp dialogue, facial expressions and play off each other like pros.
One scene I really liked was them trying to figure out how to load the right bullets into a gun. It’s done in such a deadpan, low-key manner that the scene becomes quietly hysterical. It’s as if their sitting around their kitchen table helping each other with a crossword.
It’s the latter part of the film where some real emotional punches happen and Going In Style becomes much more than just a fluffy comedy, which I’d rather not get into. It will be much more rewarding to discover it on your own. Suffice to say things slow down and get quiet for some contemplative reflection on old age. There’s this helpless emptiness the three feel and the story is about them feeling alive and viable again.
The three stars really shine in extended quiet scenes. There are a surprising number of scenes that just play out in real time and just focus on poignant moments with these characters. It’s funny, if this was made today most of these extended scenes would probably be chopped down to bits. I don’t know if filmmakers would trust if audiences would sit still for them.
It’s the second half of the film that will surprise viewers who are going in expecting an all out silly comedy. It’s much more than that.
There’s currently a remake that has been released starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin – great cast. From the trailers it looks to be promoting the funny elderly heist angle of the story. That’s the easiest and most accessible part to highlight in the story, make it look like ‘Funny Old People Ocean’s 11’.
I’m not sure if this remake has as much depth as the original or if it comes close to being so expertly handled by Brest. From what I’ve seen and heard about the remake it’s yet another pale, uninspired imitator to the original. If anything perhaps the remake will make people go back and discover Brest’s film which is truly a small quiet treasure.