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Warner Home Video presents
Going in Style (1979)

"If I've got to spend another day doing nothing but sitting around in that park, looking at those ugly kids, I'm going to go nuts. How would you guys like to go on a stick-up with me?"
- Joe (George Burns)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 31, 2004

Stars: George Burns, Art Carney, Lee Strasberg
Other Stars: Charles Hallahan
Director: Martin Brest

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:38m:12s
Release Date: March 30, 2004
UPC: 085393184124
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BB-B C-

DVD Review

Going in Style is one of those films that doesn't know what it wants to bey—a cute little comedy about a trio of geriatric bank robbers or a quasi-serious drama about aging, death, and loneliness. Certainly the marketing of this release back in 1979, which played up the lighthearted antics of the heist angle a bit more prominently, is what it is likely best remembered for, with stars George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg at one point sporting the classic big nose/glasses disguise during a hastily planned bank robbery (it is even pictured as the main image on the cover art).

Those who have seen Going in Style know that the robbery element is actually just a small part of a more serious and moving storyline that encompasses the final 2/3 of this quiet, unassuming film.

Directed by Martin Brest, the man who no doubt would love to have the highly-touted flop Gigli permanently erased from his résumé, made Going in Style just a few years before he achieved faster-paced action-comedy prominence with the likes of Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run. This time around, however, Brest employs a deliberately slow hand in telling the story of Joe (Burns), Al (Carney), and Willie (Strasberg), a trio of shuffling, elderly men living together in a tiny Long Island apartment, squeaking by on their collective Social Security checks. They spend their days together on a park bench, feeding pigeons and bickering about the electric bill, simply killing time until they can go to bed, only to live out the same day again tomorrow. That is, until Joe has the idea that the three of them should rob a bank, which, according to his plan, will either land them in jail (with three free meals and a bed) or make them more comfortable financially.

The first forty minutes or so make up what might be considered the "fun" half, which concerns their planning and execution of the heist. The dialogue and repartee between the main characters breathes with a pleasing sense of relaxation and ease, in addition to being genuinely darn funny, whether the conversations are concerning the health effects of vitamins or bullets for their handguns. The second half is where Brest more or less yanks the rug out on the comedy, and injects more traditional drama into the story, but by that time the viewer is hopefully so connected with the lives of Joe, Willie, and Al that the abrupt tonal change is somehow made even more bittersweet, regardless of the fact that the crux of the narrative wobbles a bit before finally settling into a neatly wrapped conclusion. Personally, I could have done without the two prolonged Las Vegas craps table sequences, which seem to just go on and on, causing my wise-beyond-her-years twelve-year-old daughter Sammi to label it as "obvious filler." I don't necessarily disagree.

If you've only ever seen George Burns do his typical Vegas cigar/old guy/one-liner act that was his mainstay schtick at the end of his career, then you will likely be moved by his scene-stealing role as Joe. I know I was, the first time I saw this one. Carney and Strasberg contribute fine, watchable performances, but Burns' is the definitive elderly man in Brest's film, not just a old man caricature. Frail, methodical, and slow to move, but still equipped with a sharp mind crammed with fading memories of his life that at one point cause him to break down over a box of old photos, resulting in not just tears, but incontinence. The scene is a real heartbreaker, and Burns nails this one with absolute precision, as he does during a couple of other pivotal moments, when Brest's slow camera pans and lingering shots allow us to watch Joe and allow us to clearly feel his pain.

It is a great bit of remarkably subtle emoting from Burns in Going in Style, from someone I never necessarily equated as an 'actor' (more of an 'entertainer' or 'personality'), but I know that I did catch sight of tears streaming down the face of Sammi on more than one occasion during a handful of Burns' scenes.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Brest's film boasts a pleasing, crisp image and a well-balanced color palette. So often mid-to-late 1970s films take on all sorts of faded color combinations, and I had to constantly remind myself that this was released theatrically in 1979. On the downside, a bit of shimmer and haloing in spots, and a few nicks and specks are also evident, marring an otherwise solid transfer on a 25-year-old film.

Not a flawless presentation by any means, but a surprisingly good one, for its age.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, and while not particularly robust, is clean, hiss-free and more than serviceable. Michael Small's perky, jaunty score sounds especially good.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Extras are a little on the thin side, with an excerpt entitled George Burns and Art Carney on Dinah! (06m:46s), which is a short clip of Burns and Carney yakking up the film with Dinah Shore, just prior to its release on Christmas Day 1979. Burns delivers a great joke about Carney and his touchy-feely personna, but otherwise not much here, content-wise.

In addition to a theatrical trailer that plays up the heist/comedy angle, the disc is cut into 26 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Going in Style still retains a gentle charm after all these years, and while not the tightest story ever told, it is buoyed by three great performances.

This one is definitely worth a rental.


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