Tower Heist

Tower Heist. Universal Pictures 2011.

Before watching the movie:

I passed by this a few times because I generally don’t consider crime movies to be my kind of thing. But then I noticed that it has comedy actors leading it, so I looked closer, and saw that it’s not just about stealing money, it’s about folks who lost their retirement funds to a scummy hedge fund manager stealing it back, and that interests me a lot.

I get the sense that a lot of “revenge on the Wall Street crooks” movies came out in the years after the 2009 collapse, but I mainly get that from having seen Fun with Dick and Jane in the last year, which was very very loudly about surviving a Wall Street implosion (looking it up, I realize that movie in particular wasn’t about the 2009 collapse, but the timing seems more like it was about Enron).

After watching the movie:

At The Tower, the most exclusive apartment skyscraper in New York City, Building Manager Josh Kovacs leads the most elite service staff in the country serving only the wealthiest residents, but by far the richest of them all is penthouse resident Arthur Shaw. When the FBI arrests Shaw for securities fraud and places him on house arrest in The Tower, Josh has to reveal to his team that a while ago, he had asked Shaw to manage The Tower’s pension fund, which the authorities are now saying is probably long gone. Though most staff members have their entire careers to rebuild, longtime doorman Lester was planning to retire at the end of the year. When Josh finds out that Lester tried to walk in front of a train, he goes up to the penthouse to confront Shaw on the betrayal, accompanied by the new elevator operator Enrique and the concierge Charlie (Josh’s brother-in-law and an expectant father). On talking to Shaw, Josh gets enraged and vandalizes the multimillion dollar collectable car that Shaw keeps on display in his rooms, which gets him fired, as well as Enrique and Charlie just for being there. With nothing to lose and his professional family’s investments to get back, Josh talks the other two, and Mr. Fitzhugh, a formerly wealthy, now laid off Wall Street investor who just got his Tower apartment repossessed, into a plan to break into Shaw’s apartment and steal the contents of the hidden emergency cash safe Shaw probably has there. None of them are thieves, so Josh enlists the help of a neighbor of his who’s been in and out of jail for years called Slide, to train them and mastermind the heist of a fortune they aren’t sure is there from the highest security building in New York, in an apartment occupied by its owner.

This is much more of a thriller than an action movie as I was expecting. The tone stays fairly evenly balanced, staying mostly on the side of drama with frequent comic relief. My overall impression was that the comic actors are all mostly playing seriously, but it’s mostly Stiller playing straight, and if Alda counts as a comic actor, especially him. Murphy seems to be playing one of the most hardened criminals I’ve seen him play, but I don’t know if I’ve seen enough breadth of his career to make an absolute statement, and he’s still frequently comic. The supporting ensemble however, are all mainly used for comedy, and they are very enjoyable to watch.

I was struck by how fast they were able to turn around a movie inspired by the 2009 crisis with such a high-caliber cast, but it turns out that they were very lucky to have a movie already in development right around the time the market was on fire, which had been moving away from a more straightforward “robbing a very wealthy investor” ensemble heist to the more personally motivated story. It was also surprising to see Murphy in more of a classic, less self-indulgent turn for when the movie came out, but it turns out it was his project originally, which he left for a while as it evolved away from his initial idea and then came back to when he was offered what seems like it became a more significant part if the original was more ensemble-focused.

About halfway through the movie, I realized that The Tower is Trump Tower with the serial numbers filed off, so I had to look into that as well. Apparently it was always inspired by Trump Tower, but the mark moved away from being inspired by Trump as a generally scummy businessman to being more of a stand-in for Bernie Madoff, and at some point, the production made an agreement to use the actual Trump Tower and other Trump properties for the Tower, and ultimately, even if the villain in the final version is a Bernie Madoff, I get some enjoyment in framing it as the white collar criminal owner of the Trump Tower penthouse getting robbed by the Tower’s own staff. The real thing may not have caused the late 00s financial meltdown, but he did gut a bunch of the measures meant to keep it from happening again.

This movie was a lot of fun and the revenge fantasy will probably be perennially relatable. There’s a ramping up of spectacle through the movie along with the tension, so although it starts out pretty grounded, the climax is anything but mundane. While heist movies are always even more fun than I expect, this may be the most fun I’ve had with one.

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