Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine in Going in Style.
Photo: Warner Brothers
It’s easy to feel cynical about a movie like Going in Style, which opens this weekend: Assembling a group of acting elder statesmen to go on a cinematic rumspringa has become a well-worn micro-genre in the past few years. Yet somehow, many of these movies, including 2012’s Stand Up Guys and 2013’s Last Vegas, are incredibly fun. Yes, they’re opportunistic. They go for sight gags and cheap laughs, and most regrettably, tend to feature a fair amount of gay-panic moments. But at their best, they’re excuses to put a handful of film icons in the same movie and have them play the versions of themselves you’ve come to know best over the decades.
Which actors handle the demands of the genre the best? That’s what we’re here today to find out. After watching Grudge Match, Last Vegas, Space Cowboys, Stand Up Guys, and The Bucket List, we have assembled the Platonic ensemble cast for a movie about old guys getting their grooves back. Call it the Hemorrhoid Cream Team.
The only rules: The actors must be alive, and they must be older than 65. (Which throws out most of the Wild Hogs cast. Sorry, Wild Hogs.) The next time Hollywood needs a group of old gents to rob a bank, throw a bachelor party, take a road trip, go to space, or participate in a decades-old boxing rivalry, consider this your default casting list.
Going in Style will be Arkin’s third old-guys-get-their-groove-back movie, after The Grudge Match and Stand Up Guys. All the actors in these movies can do comedy well, but Arkin is the best. His matter-of-fact line delivery about hard-earned truths reminds you that he’s got fewer days ahead of him than behind him, but he’s also the one who won’t make a big deal about counting down time. You just do what you have to with what you’ve got, and there’s no need to get hysterical about things. Arkin also feels so natural onscreen it’s like he just walked on set in each of these movies and the director shouted, “Film Alan!” His characters are always characters without being caricatures, and his “Fuck it, I’m old” attitude works equally well in the part of the reckless one, or the group’s grounded center. Either way, if you’re going to make a movie about octogenarians letting loose, Arkin is a must-have.
Of course we’re including Morgan Freeman, Hollywood’s God-figure of record. The Oscar winner has popped up in Last Vegas, The Bucket List, and Going in Style, and in each of them he’s showed off an ability to be silly and stoic in equal measure. In Last Vegas he gets giggly and hopped up on vodka Redbulls in one scene, then in another, gently demands his son look him in the eye as he gives a speech about being an old man with agency who doesn’t need anyone managing his life. Both times, you wish he was your grandpa. Freeman is the one with the gravitas in the group, and he’s the one who will shut things down when his curmudgeonly cohort starts bitching at each other with old-man gripes.
Tommy Lee Jones
A twist! While Jones’s star image has become so sour over the years he’s practically a citrus, he stole the show as the reckless one in 2000’s Space Cowboys. Jones can play crotchety and unamused in his sleep, but he can also be playful, and either mode tends to act as a cover-up for his internal softness. He’s the old-school Texas tough guy with a vulnerable core, which makes the obligatory moments of emotional catharsis very affecting. Every old-guy ensemble needs the guy who silently carries decades of pain that’s only revealed during a group argument where all the other guys learn why he’s been such a bastard this whole time. It could be Robert De Niro, but let’s be honest, at this stage of their careers, Jones is painting with a few more shades. Bring him on as your tough guy with a rascally glint in his eye.
Rounding out the group in the essential fourth spot is Kevin Kline, who only has one of these movies to his name: Last Vegas. Kline brings a different kind of humor than the other actors, a more playful sort of wit. You get all the gruff you need from the other guys; the way Kline seems to dance through scenes means his presence alone is a source of levity. You feel like he and Freeman could have been tenured professors at the same college together, but even after decades in academia, he never lost the wonder in his eyes. (Just spitballing here.) The actor also brings a receptiveness to new experiences, and that’s the engine these kind of movies run on. You need a spry one in the bunch, and even at 69, Kline always feels youthful.
At some point in every old-man movie, there has to be a woman. It could be a daughter or a love interest, it doesn’t matter — you just need a gal to stir up feelings in the hardened hearts of the men. Steenburgen popped up in Last Vegas, playing a retired accountant who followed her dream of being a singer all the way to the Strip. The matinee gigs weren’t much, but she loved them, and she brought a brightness and age-appropriate sexiness to the role that gave the movie a little more depth. Steenburgen is also pretty funny, and having her around to steadily rib the guys is a great way to break up jokes about erectile dysfunction. If we’re making an old-man’s Ocean’s 12, she’s our perfect Julia Roberts.