Going in Style (1979)

Going in Style (1979)

“It feels like we’ve lived two lives: one before the robbery, and one after.”

When three elderly roommates — Joe (George Burns), Al (Art Carney), and Willie (Lee Strasberg) — decide that robbing a bank is a “win-win” proposition, they steal guns from the safe of Al’s nephew (Charles Hallahan) and carry out their crime, with unexpected ramifications.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Elderly People
  • George Burns Films
  • Heists
  • New York City

Writer-director Martin Brest’s second feature-length film — after debuting with Hot Tomorrows (1977) — was this unusual black comedy which never fails to go in unexpected directions. Little of the storyline is realistic enough to be believed, but that seems besides the point, given that we’re meant to empathize with the sorry lot of these men who find their lives unsatisfying enough to commit a major robbery with loaded firearms.

Unfortunately, we’re not given a reasonable-enough rationale for Burns’ radical (and actually NOT funny) idea, nor are we told quite enough about the other two men to understand their willingness to agree with him. (Strasberg is given one highly affecting moment of reflection back on a poor parenting choice:

… and we see Carney’s love for his nephew’s working-class family — but that’s it.) With that said, highly effective use is made of authentic New York City locales and extras, and Brest directs numerous scenes (i.e., those taking place in Vegas) with a refreshing naturalness.

This one is worth a look, though not must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the leads
  • Excellent use of authentic New York City sets

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Going in Style (1979)

  1. Not must-see.

    Since this is more-or-less a fantasy tale, it requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief: i.e., it’s odd that, once retired, these 3 guys basically have no active life (or interests of any kind) outside of each other (although Carney does occasionally see family members); the bank job goes a little *too* smoothly (such a big bank without a steady stream of customers always coming in?!); they’re *that* incredibly lucky as beginners in Vegas?! – um… ok. … etc.

    The script is a premise that, by rights, shouldn’t be appealing: one of robbery and greed. Yet it’s calculated to be palatable because of the stars – and the ‘cuteness’ of it all is encouraged by composer Michael Small’s generally whimsical score.

    In terms of tone, the film (not surprisingly) sits uncomfortably somewhere between comedy and drama. Still, as performers, Burns, Carney and Strasberg (my favorite here of the three, though they’re all good) offer no shortage of small pleasures – and Brest handles timing / pacing well and lends some lovely directorial touches.

    To cap things off, Burns’ character’s spoken rationale at film’s end is oddly moving.

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