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  • Benjamin May

Going In Style (1979) Review

Joe, Al and Willie are three senior citizens who are tired of their mundane existence in the Big Apple. They share an apartment and try to save money any way they can, but inflation is still making it difficult for them to get by. Joe especially wants to find a way to end the monotony of their lives, and one day a thought strikes him: why don't they rob a bank? If they succeed, they'll be rich, and if they're caught, they'll be sent to jail where the state will provide them bed and board. Either way it's a win-win. Will Joe, Al and Willie pull off the caper, or will life deal the men yet another crushing blow?

Martin Brest's 'Going in Style' is a wickedly funny, poignant crime flick featuring sharp dialogue, brilliant performances and an original, unpredictable story. It is a portrait of the aging process that is both tender and cynical, about three men rebelling against a society that no longer respects or cares for them. Brest's screenplay is a biting, viciously witty treatise that is equal parts entertaining and affecting. It is most of all realistic- despite being filled with high comedy and borderline farcical moments, like the stick-up or a ridiculously successful trip to Vegas.

Billy Williams' cinematography is remarkably refined and naturalistic, unpretentious work that showcases his versatility behind the camera. Three years after shooting 'Going in Style', he would win the Academy Award for his grander, lusher work on Attenborough's 'Gandhi;' he was a malleable cinematographer whose style always suited the material perfectly. In addition, Carroll Timothy O'Meara and Robert Swink's editing is intuitive and flawless, adding unquestionable power to the film.

Michael Small's score is catchy and energetic, while also providing additional emotional impact in 'Going in Style's contemplative moments. The set design and decoration from Herbert F. Mulligan is impressive, with Joe, Al and Willie's apartment being most rich and convincing in texture and detail. Anna Hill Johnstone's costume design is also worth mentioning, capturing the down-at-heels nature of the central trio shrewdly.

George Burns stars as Joe, the main character, and has arguably never given a better performance on the silver screen. He showcases emotional depth and range that is so powerful, so natural; you wonder why he waited until he was 79 to start playing characters other than himself. He brings boundless energy and life to Joe, as well as righteous anger at the modern world with its' indignities and difficulties. He also makes the character wholly sympathetic and believable.

Burns once quipped "acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made." After watching him in 'Going in Style', you'll surely agree that he was one of cinema's greatest fakers. His is a touching, affecting performance that is most memorable and utterly compelling. Art Carney and Lee Strasberg co-star as Al and Willie, respectively, and both are fantastic. Carney's Al is a good-natured fellow, and they couldn't have cast a more likable, charming or intelligent performer for the role. He comes across like the old uncle you always wanted, the kind who'd slip you sweets during dinner and tell jokes everyone in the family would laugh at.

Strasberg is the most bitter of the three, but shows such emotional depth and vulnerability that you fully understand the character. A scene involving him reminiscing about his son is one of the single finest pieces of acting ever put to film. When you have Burns, Carney and Strasberg together- as well as strong supporting performances from the likes of Charles Hallahan and Pamela Payton-Wright- it's a truly unforgettable experience.

'Going In Style' is a brilliant, highly entertaining crime caper, as well as being a barbed examination of the process of aging. Featuring three strong performances from Burns, Carney and Strasberg and assured cinematography from Billy Williams, the film is not to be missed. Burns once said "you can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old." After watching the antics he and his pals get up to in 'Going in Style;' you'll see just how true that epigram is.


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