Thanksgiving Is About Robbery And Revenge In’Tower Heist’

Thanksgiving seems to be a holiday Hollywood shies away from. You either have it used as a backdrop to The Ice Storm or as a plot point in Boomerang. There’s Home for the Holidays which is now more memorable for being the time Robert Downey Jr. was at the worst of his substance abuse.

Tower Heist, released in 2011, takes a different approach. You could call it An Ocean’s Eleven Thanksgiving. That’s actually how Eddie Murphy approached filmmakers around 2005 with an all-star all-black cast reportedly robbing Trump plaza before Murphy decided to make Norbit instead. Good call. There’s a little bit of a satire of those all-star Ocean movies of people coming together to pull off an elaborate heist. Here, the movie is set during the aftermath of the Wall Street fiancial crisis. The Tower, an upscale apartment complex in posh Manhattan, is the place for the wealthiest of the wealthiest. It’s also home to Wall Street billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda).

However, it’s revealed that Shaw is in fact has been masterminding a Ponzi scheme for years to get all of his money. It’s never really revealed how but all we need to know if he ripped off a lot of people. This also includes the retirement savings for the staff of the Tower. Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), the building manager, had taken it upon himself to ask Shaw to invest all the funds as he was on the apartments’ board of directors a few years prior. Yet, when Shaw was arrested by the FBI, he only had $600 in his account and all his investments were shown to be shams. Shaw tried to arrange a fast break when the FBI, led by Agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), were going to arrest him but failed.

As the employee’s express resentment to Josh, the aging doorman Lester (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is hospitalized on suicide watch as he attempts to step in front of an oncoming subway train. Lester was set to retire and had personally given his retirement fund to Shaw only to realize that it’s all gone and he can’t retire now.

Angry, Josh goes to confront Shaw under house arrest with his brother-in-law, Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck), the concierge, and the newly hired elevator operator Enrique Devereaux (Michael Pena). When told about Lester, Shaw sidesteps Josh’s questioning and calls investment a risk but Josh points out that he never asked if Lester was alive or not. Josh then vandalizes a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso that was owned by Steve McQueen Shaw has in his penthouse. This leads to Josh, Charlie and Enrique all getting fired by Mr. Simon (Judd Hirsch), the building manager.

Josh meets with Claire to give the FBI any information they need but finds out they already have it as the retirement savings was just a small account. However, Claire is impressed by Josh standing up to Shaw and they chat over drinks at a bar where she lets it slip that Shaw may have hidden $20 million or more in a reserve that they can’t find. Realizing it’s a chance to get back at Shaw and help out the employees he swindled, Josh contacts Darnell “Slide” Davis (Murphy), a petty criminal, who he went to school with when they were kids. Slide lives nearby Josh and often harasses him on his way to work. But the thought of stealing $20 million interests him.

Josh also gets Charlie and Enrique interested in his plan as well as Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) a disgraced banker who used to work at Merrill Lynch, but lost all his and everyone’s money on bad investments. Fitzhugh was living at the Tower before he was evicted. Fitzhugh also echoes Claire’s comments that Shaw probably had some money in a reserve somewhere as the courts would’ve ordered a bank freeze once an investigation started. Shaw still needed a lot of spending money to keep up appearances.

They realize they’re also going to need the assistant of Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe), a Jamaican-born maid, who is an expert in picking locks when they suspect Shaw has a high dollar very secure safe in the wall in his penthouse. In the end, they orchestrate a fake court hearing on Thanksgiving so Claire and other agents can get Shaw out of the penthouse and use the Thanksgiving Day Parade to their advantage at creating diversions.

While the movie does have some good laughs and seeing such an assembly of cast is pleasant, the movie also says something about treatment of those in the service industry. Before he is fired, Josh is basically living at the Tower himself as he tells Lester as they are leaving work, he’s got to be back in nine hours. We see moments of him at about 5 a.m. making coffee in his townhouse. I suspect that he doesn’t even live in Manhattan but another borough. The staff at the Tower seem to pamper the wealthy residents who don’t seem the least bit interested in their gestures. Charlie is asked if he got cigars for a resident.

The staff seems to consists of older people as well as BIPOC, which they use as Odessa fakes a birthday party for a Latino worker to cause a diversion. This was made a decade before the Covid-19 pandemic when those in the service industry were called “essential workers.” But it really means nothing as they are underpaid and underappreciated. The staff at the Tower aren’t allowed to accept tips but you wonder how much they’re paid even in NYC. But yet, the movie directed by Brett Ratner, of all people, doesn’t hammer this issue harder, but in a subtle way. Lester talks about being a doorman for the wealthy residents of NYC. You can tell he does it because the residents need to feel special that someone is opening doors for them.

On the flip side, Alda is his sleazy best as Shaw, a composite of Bernie Madoff, Jack Abramoff, and just about every other rich person who has swindled people over the years. He has a rooftop pool with a $100 bill as the outline of the bottom of the pool. Alda shows Shaw as a person who doesn’t care who he rips off. He asks Josh to handle his breakfast order because he knows Josh won’t spit on his food, a comment that makes Josh mad, but Josh knows he can’t say anything. In the end, Shaw is considering filing charges against Josh for the damage to his Ferrari when he thinks he’ll be set free. Shaw used Josh until Josh was no longer important to him.

You could look at Tower Heist as revenge fan fiction as most of what happened during that time in the late 2000s seemed to give all the banks and financial investors a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card. My ex’s daughter and her family were wrapped up in the mess as their previous landlord had used promissory notes to buy properties to went and then just took the money and didn’t pay off the notes. And this was in a nice neighborhood in a very nice suburb of Tulsa. Seeing someone like Shaw gets what’s coming to him as the rest of the people he ripped off rejoice is a sign what would happen if lawmakers weren’t in the pockets of corporate America.

While it’s not really the best movie and there are faults. There’s so many characters to squeeze into a movie that is only 104 minutes and you can spot the twist coming. Also, a final twist leaves a lot of questions as well because cars are very heavy. Also, with everyone looking up at the floats, how did someone not notice something was going wrong at the Tower?

But these are little suspensions of disbeliefs. Despite mixed reviews, the movie made over $150 million worldwide. And for a while, it seemed the last movie Murphy had filmed for a while. He had made A Thousand Words in 2008 but it sat on the shelf until 2012. It was also a nice return to some of his more earlier roles after making a lot of family-oriented movies. Seeing how Murphy, Stiller and Broderick, who all started out in the 1980s, coming together many years later, is a great match.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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