Tower Heist is a cathartic comedy for the Occupy era. How could you possibly read it otherwise? A lucratively wealthy investor—a titan of the banking industry—acts irresponsibly and swindles dozens of people out of their life savings; his victims are left to pick up the pieces. In one scene, one of those victims takes a golf club and begins gleefully hacking away at the investor's priceless, vintage automobile. I have seen movies in which cars are demolished, but I've never experienced an audience react with such uproarious fervor.
The Ponzi schemer is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who we initially believe to be an upstanding member of the financial community and a good and gracious resident of a luxurious New York apartment complex, simply called The Tower. Alda pulls off a neat trick of seeming genuinely warm at first, and growing just the tiniest bit more villainous every time he is on the screen. A few years back, Shaw was asked by The Tower's manager, Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), to handle the pension plans for the entire Tower staff. Now Shaw is facing criminal charges for fraud, his victims told that the money is simply gone. The members of the Tower staff are destitute.
Thing get pretty real in a couple of scenes, and the screenplay lays it on pretty thick—one of those defrauded is about to have a baby and is now without insurance, several are immigrants, and one was just weeks away from retirement; this latter fellow, in the film's darkest moment, tries to step in front of a train to end his life. This is very much a movie of the times, complete with all the right signifiers—references to specific financial institutions, for instance—but it's not a political picture. It's a cheerful, feel-good ...1