Braff’s ‘Going in Style’ Is an Ageless Tale of Rebellion, Social Issues

going in style

There are some people on this earth that just seem like they have kind of always been an old person. Despite their successes as a young adult or the normality of their middle age, these people have looked old for a very long time—long enough that you have to Google what they looked like when they were young. Probably the best examples of this phenomena are Alan Arkin, 83 years old, Sir Michael Caine, 84, and Morgan Freeman, who is surprisingly only 79 but also has played God, quite possibly the oldest thing ever, since 2003. Acknowledging their talents as Academy Award-winning actors even in their old age, director Zach Braff has built Going in Style around them, creating a funny and smart remake of the 1979 original, despite a few bumps along the way.

Joe (Caine) finds himself at Williamsburg Savings Bank after getting a yellow-coded envelope indicating his house may be foreclosed on soon. While there, a group of men in Purge-like masks take over the place, stuffing cash into bags as they shout rhetoric against Big Banks and corporate greed. After witnessing one of the robbers up close, Joe gets taken in and interviewed by Hamer (Matt Dillon), an FBI agent who doesn’t seem smart enough to ever find the perpetrators. When Joe and his fellow Brooklynite friends Albert (Arkin) and Willie (Freeman) lose their jobs due to company outsourcing and their pension plans are dissolved to get rid of the company’s debt. Determined to get “a piece of the pie,” Joe decides he wants to rob his bank, which is holding the pension funds, and after some encouraging of the others, the plan is set in motion.

The plot picks up from there, leading to a practice go-around on the local grocery store, tapping Joe’s weed-selling ex-son-in-law for fellow “lowlifes” to help them with the job, and meticulous training for the actual robbery to take place on the day Joe’s house will be lost and their local hangout holds a carnival. As expected, the robbery does not go as smoothly as hoped.

Going in Style is a departure from the original, which shone a spotlight on the boredom and loneliness of old age and featured bleaker plot points. Braff’s work, instead, comments on the social issues surrounding his characters, from the general distrust of corporations and the continuing gentrification of areas for hipsters. Joe acknowledges to his granddaughter, Brooklyn, while walking her home from school that the neighborhood has changed over the years, with her remarking it has gotten safer. In the carnival scene, solar panels peek out from the old-style rides and concessions stands. 

The three main characters are funny on their own and build off on each other, though some of the initial comedy—a lot of “they’re just so old!” jokes—leaves much to be desired. The situations Braff puts them in, however, from an engrossed viewing of The Bachelorette to a frantic electric scooter chase with pork loin stuffed down Freeman’s pants, give the film a freshness that shows that the characters have kept up with pop culture just fine and can compete with the youngest of criminals. Christopher Lloyd, whose performance as Milton is essentially a continuation of his character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest as a somewhat insane person, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Milton is loud and forgetful, believing anything anyone says. The possibility of Milton having a serious illness like dementia is not far from the audience’s mind, and most of his character falls flat because of it.

Efforts from the supporting cast do not go unnoticed, as Braff has compiled heavy-hitters that all fit into this world. Dillon, who often plays guy-who-the-audience-is-supposed-to hate (see: Crash and There’s Something About Mary), brings his usual sliminess and condescension to his role as the FBI agent. The biggest plot twist of the movie would not have been successful without the acting chops of John Ortiz, whose character Jesus puts the three elderly criminals through the paces of pulling off the heist. He switches his mannerisms and voice on a dime, leading to a thoroughly satisfying resolution for one of the subplots. In a film of established actors and actresses, Joey King stands out as one of the youngest characters through her portrayal of Brooklyn. King, who was featured in Braff’s 2014 film Wish I Was Here and has been called his muse by Braff himself, brings a bluntness to her character, but keeps the honesty and 14-year-old swearing from straying into manic pixie dream girl territory.

Going in Style may not be the best movie at the box office this week—Boss Baby and Beauty and the Beast will reign supreme after multiple go-arounds—but the film does the job, bringing an interesting story to the screen without feeling gimmicky in its premise. The last 20 minutes of the movie provide a satisfaction that few films in comedy do, and make Going in Style a great vehicle to watch the most famous of old people wreak havoc on New York City.

Featured Image By Warner Bros. Pictures

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Shannon Kelly was the assistant features editor in 2017 and the associate copy editor in 2016. She could win an Emmy one day! Follow her in advance @ShannonJoyKelly.