Zach Braff’s Going in Style is strictly for laughs, although his stars – Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin – all agree the film contains a social commentary on a society that abandons its sick and elderly.
Victims of a pension fund scam and high interest mortgage loans, these three lifelong pals decide to rob the bank that took their savings.
Based on Martin Brest’s 1979 film starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, the earlier trio were motivated by a desire to put some fizzle back into their lives, whereas today’s version speaks to corporate greed and welfare budget cuts. Braff’s version, however, has a happier ending.
“We were inspired by Martin Brest’s original but we’re not trying to remake it. If you want to make a big family comedy in 2017, then we didn’t really want them going to jail in the end and dying. That’s not the movie we were making,” explains the director when STACK meets with him and the cast at New York’s Whitby Hotel.
“The reality of their situation is played straight and honestly, I don’t think you can help being moved by the prospect of these three men suddenly struggling for a way to survive. It is problematic when corporations are sold overseas and people can lose their pensions. And if you get very sick you can go broke in the US – something that is not a problem in a lot of other countries. The underlying theme of these guys is: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’.”
Arkin agrees: “I can only imagine if someone worked their whole life and counted on the company they worked for to honour that commitment, and it doesn’t, that even someone who’d never had a criminal thought in their lives would become enraged. I completely understand why these three guys go ballistic and do what they do.”
As the ringleader of the operation, Caine’s Joe tells his pals in the film that he doesn’t even fear being sent to prison, saying: “Worst case scenario. If I’m in jail, I’ll have a bed, three meals a day and better healthcare than I have now.”
Fortunately for Caine he has no such worries. “Being from Britain we have a very good health service, so you are taken care of when you’re old or sick . . .” he says, before Freeman butts in.
“Taken care of. Period. I remember being in England and I got hit in the head with a sword and they took me to hospital and I got sewn up and fixed and I didn’t even have to sign a piece of paper.”
“If you have an accident in America, come to England!” quips Caine.
Recreating their friendship on screen was easy for these real-life friends; Going in Style marks the sixth collaboration between Caine and Freeman, who previously co-starred in the Dark Knight trilogy and two Now You See Me movies, while Arkin and Caine both had minor roles in 1967 comedy Woman Times Seven.
“Chemistry is either there or it isn’t. Fortunately for us, all the chemistry was there immediately,” says Arkin.
“But we’re all actors and even if we didn’t get on, we would all have played it like we were best friends, the only difference being we would have hated each other on the way home,” laughs Caine.
On working with his Oscar-winning cast, Braff says, “I was very nervous at first but I soon discovered they’re a very funny group and very welcoming and we just started laughing and getting along right away. They couldn’t have been nicer to me.”
The conversation turns serious when the actors ask themselves where they would be in life if they hadn’t found success in their chosen vocation.
“If you have an aspiration and that aspiration isn’t met, you are likely to become disillusioned, which can lead to anger, and angry people have few friends. However, if your aspirations are met, then the disillusionment doesn’t happen, so you don’t become an angry person. So having been able to make a living at this has literally changed us into real people,” muses Freeman.
Echoing Freeman’s thoughts, Caine adds: “Because of acting, my life has been paradise. I didn’t become an actor to become a film star or make money or be rich or famous because I knew I couldn’t be that because I was from a working class background in the ‘50s in English theatre, so I was only going to play small parts like the butler or the policeman who comes in at the end and takes the criminal away. And I was very happy to do that. The idea that I made any living at all doing something that I only ever imagined being an amateur at, is just incredible to me.”
In further revelations, Caine admits how he first got a taste of drama by joining the amateur dramatics society at his local youth club. “The dramatic group was full of pretty girls. I was only 14 at the time, and just trying to get laid. That was my only original intention.”
Going in Style is in cinemas on April 20