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'Going in Style': Bank Heist Steals Your Heart

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires film critic
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My first inclination when hearing that Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman would star in director Zach Braff's remake of 1979's "Going in Style," which featured George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, was to scream "Sacrilege!" But I was at a funeral and, fearing the outburst might be inappropriate, contained myself. 
 
Later, my calmed head prevailing, I got philosophical about it. While the older set of oldsters was terrific in this seriocomic bank heist film, one good turn should deserve another, especially if it showcases such national treasures.
 
Besides, pity is, the economic situation that stirred the original gang to embark on a life of crime remains relatively unchanged for Albert (Arkin), Joe (Caine) and Willie (Freeman). It's summed up in a telling, early scene when Joe, visiting his bank to fend off foreclosure of his home, is forced to the floor during a bank robbery. Anxious to preserve life and limb, he offers one of the perpetrators his wallet. But the bandit refuses it, explaining in charitable homily, "It's a culture's duty to take care of its elderly."
 
"Yeah," we think ... "he's right."
 
The fact is, our trio of golden agers is caught in the Catch 22 of Social Darwinism, a 19th-century ideology that, in direct contradiction to the social conscience that now prevails in all enlightened societies, veils its greed behind a lot of gobbledygook rationalization. The contention is that helping folks too much will weaken and thus preclude them from pulling themselves up by those much overestimated bootstraps. It's kind of them to keep us from our inner slothfulness. Yet, what they don't want to understand is that not everybody is good at amassing money.
 
In the specific case of "Going in Style's" senior citizen pals, insult is added to injury when, through some deregulated, financial hocus-pocus, the factory in which they toiled for some 30-odd years has been allowed to default on its pension obligations. Social Security alone won't keep the boys above water, each of them facing their own particular hardship: i.e., Joe is determined to keep a roof over his daughter and granddaughter's heads; Willie is going to need a kidney transplant; and Albert, a gourmand, would just as soon not attempt cat food Wellington.
 
We tear up a tad as these sadly realistic problems are outlined, our sympathy certainly amplified by the thought that, "There, but for the grace ... ," well, you know. But our guys, contrary to what those fiscal conservatives might think, don't go in for the self-pity stuff. Determined to do a proper muckrake of this national shame without bumming us out, they engage in a cheering, rollicking repartee that bravely denies the severity of their plight. Thanks to wonderful thespic chemistry, we are further heartened as the three convince us that they are indeed best friends.
 
Similarly, Theodore Melfi's script, based on the book by Edward Cannon, pokes good-natured fun at the doddering years in general, while in the same witty and wise vein asserts the reverence that is due seniors in a humane civilization. Although much of it is familiar — and even a bit overplayed, as in in the case of fellow lodge member Milton, portrayed by Christopher Lloyd, who channels his Reverend Jim from TV's "Taxi" — the observations are, for the most part, accurate. But while dealt an unjust hand, Willie, Joe and Albert wear their years with dignity.
 
A convivial give-and-take alternates between the sad economic facts about senior citizens in the richest country in the world having to choose between medicine and food, and the wacky, near burlesque, devil-may-care antics of these three indomitable regalers of life's pageant. And, just to pepper things with a little romance, when pretty Ann-Margret's Annie sets her cap for Albert, we cheer the ideal that love, like hope, springs eternal.
 
The other item that bolsters an admittedly simple storyline is the unspoken question posed by the subtext. A matter of ethics, it hangs overhead like the proverbial shoe waiting to drop. Jokes aside, these fellows are planning a bank robbery. That's illegal. Never mind that banks around the world are regularly being prosecuted for the people robberies they perpetrate. The last I heard, two wrongs don't make a right. The inherent quandary adds an effective sense of anxiety to an otherwise predictable scenario.
 
In short, save for the few Inspector Javerts and any self-righteous, reactionary members of the U.S. Congress who might be in the audience, we find ourselves in the curious position of rooting for potential outlaws. This provocatively intrinsic dilemma amidst "Going in Style's" warmhearted celebration of the human spirit makes for some socioeconomic morality to ponder should you and the Goldblums opt for a little après-theater discussion at the diner. Remember, they paid last time. But don't forget to ask for the senior citizen discount, if applicable.
 
"Going in Style," rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Zach Braff and stars Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Running time: 96 minutes
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