We're Not Criminals, We Don't Know How To Steal: Tower Heist (2011)

Tower Heist upon its theatrical release was a film that had everything going against it, from Brett Ratner making an ass of himself when hired to produce the Oscars, to having a cast of actors who are no longer top level talent.  With that being said, Tower Heist is an incredibly enjoyable movie and often has the viewer surprised by the genius, innovation and sheer fun that exists in the relatively short movie.  It is not a brilliant movie deserving of large amounts of praise, nor is it a film that marks an advancement in heist films, but it is quite watchable and balanced in its comedic delivery.  It is precisely what a person would want out of a streamline Hollywood comedy, and to expect anything more out of this film going in would be foolish and illogical.  It offers nothing new to the film palate, but sometimes regular is exactly what a person needs, and Tower Heist is exceptional at being middle of the road. 

Tower Heist primarily focuses on Josh Kovac (Ben Stiller) a manager at an illustrious high-rise apartment known as The Tower.  Josh is a man who takes great pride in his job and concerns himself with the safety and comforts of his apartment’s residents which include the recently unemployed Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and the profusely rich owner of the apartment’s penthouse Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda).  While Josh is greatly concerned with the respectability of his job, his fellow employees display a less than zealous fervor for customer service.  These employees include Josh’s own mumbling and inept brother Charlie (Casey Affleck), the loud-mouthed West Indian apartment cleaner Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and a recently hired elevator repairman named Enrique (Michael Pena).  Despite their dysfunctions, the group works nicely together and please the residents, and all appears to be normal until Arthur Shaw is arrested in his penthouse.  Confused and uncertain of the reasoning Josh approaches the arresting FBI agent Claire (Tea Leoni) only to discover that Shaw has been arrested for large scale money laundering, which includes his and the rest of The Tower employees money.  At first skeptical, but quickly enraged by the act, Josh sets out to exact revenge upon Shaw by robbing him of the money, he believes to be kept somewhere in the penthouse apartment.  Unfortunately, before Josh can do so he is fired for damaging Shaw’s rather expensive replica of a car driven by Steve McQueen in a film.  This dismissal from his job leads to Josh recruiting the help of his brother Charlie and the unemployed Mr. Fitzhugh in the robbery, as well as the help of Slide (Eddie Murphy) and convict who is an expert in all things thievery.   Despite having differences of opinions, Slide agrees to help and the group sets out on a zany and slapstick heavy attempt at obtaining the money that is rightfully theirs.  I would go into detail about the robbery, but to do so would involve a severe amount of spoilers.  It is better to experience the twists in this movie, as they are indeed one of its biggest selling factors.

What I will do instead is focus on why I think this film has fared so well critically.  What separates Tower Heist from simply being a run of the mill heist movie, is the inherent racial and class issues present.  Often robbery movies involve wealthy thieves becoming wealthier, it is a rare occurrence in contemporary cinema that we get a revisioning of the classic Robin Hood narrative, in which wealth is stolen from the rich and given to the poor.  Yet even Tower Heist is different in that the film is about the rich stealing from the poor, and the poor deciding that they are fed up with the thief.  This film comes on the tail of some of the most expansive and outrageous bank frauds in American history as well as the fizzling of the much followed and discussed Occupy Wall Street movement, which shared the same condolences as the characters in this film.  Furthermore, this film also portrays a rather vast array of persons involved in the robbery.  Josh Kovacs is perhaps the most normal of the group, yet his privilege as a white male also means he possesses the most to lose if the robbery fails.  In contrast, characters like the poor uneducated Charlie or the silenced Hispanic Enrique gain the most from a successful robbery, an image that is often overlooked in heist movies.  Similarly, it is made quite evident that characters like Slide and Odessa are constantly at threat of white oppression, whether it be the ridiculous rules barring Odessa from becoming an American citizen or the heavy hand of the law the prevents Slide from acting in a civilized manner, as opposed to relying on theft.  Even the relatively well to do Mr. Fitzhugh is troubled by greed, as we are led to believe that he is one of the few bankers who was working without devious intentions.  I would simply like to contrast this film with The Town, which was about a group of white males engaging in robberies and simply posit that its popularity and critical praise is due most likely to its statement that the oppressed no longer care to take oppression sitting down.

I am wary about recommending this movie as anything but a theater movie.  I am uncertain how its enjoyability with transfer to home video, so if you get a chance your best bet is to see this film in theaters.

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