Saturday, February 11, 2012

Going in Style (1979)

          Matching a whimsical premise with a pitch-perfect cast and a skilled writer-director hungry to show off his comedy chops, Going in Style is a charmer from start to finish. The plotting is a bit on the predictable side, and some might find the picture’s juxtaposition of melancholy elements with a frivolous story jarring, but the movie overflows with what used to be called, in less cynical times, “heart.”
          Joe (George Burns), Al (Art Carney), and Willie (Lee Strasberg) are three seniors sharing expenses by living together in New York City. They fritter away their days feeding pigeons from park benches, and they’re all close to going stir crazy from the monotony of their eventless lives. One day, Joe gets a wild idea: Why not rob a bank? Watching the three men debate and plan their crime is a hoot, since none can muster a good argument against becoming criminals; the threat of life in prison, for instance, isn’t much of a deterrent for men already facing death in the near future, and the idea that bank deposits are federally insured convinces them nobody will get hurt.
          Al pilfers pistols from his sweet nephew, Pete (Charles Hallahan), a working stiff who collects antique guns, and the seniors pick out novel disguises for the big heist—they wear Groucho glasses. Offering a reasonable explanation for why the trio gets away with their crime, writer-director Martin Brest (working from a story by Edward Cannon) plays up the idea that bank employees are stunned by the sight of gray-haired bandits with shuffling gaits and stooped shoulders. After the heist, Brest sweetly illustrates the new spring each man has in his step; the point is not that the men have become callous law-breakers, but that they’ve recaptured what it feels like to be alive.
          The movie takes some colorful turns after the robbery, leading to a bittersweet finale that’s quite satisfying, and Brest walks a fine line by balancing fun narrative contrivances with more realistic considerations. (His deft approach to character-driven crime comedies delivered blockbuster results in the ’80s, when he made Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run.) Each of the leading performances is lively and warm, with Burns putting a deadpan capper onto his amazing run of ’70s comeback roles, and Carney relishing a substantial part at a point when his own ’70s comeback was starting to run out of gas. As for Strasberg, the revered acting teacher best known for playing Jewish gangster Hyman Roth in The Godfather: Part II (1974), he counters his showier costars with a gently touching performance distinguished by expressive wordless moments.

Going in Style: GROOVY


Will Errickson said...

GOING IN STYLE is truly a delight!

Tommy Ross said...

Always liked this one, it had depth for a bank robbery comedy and all three of the leads were great especially Lee Strasberg.

schmo said...

Burns' best work on film, a quiet,touching death scene on a park bench and a memorable Michael Small score...a true gem.

Too bad there's been a remake directed by Zach Braff that's been threatening to get released one of these days.