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Tower Heist

Tower Heist

Brett Ratner’s new film has a timely message for the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.


Tower Heist is a movie that will only be enjoyed by about 99% of the population. The rest will say it’s offensive to rich people.

It’s hard to judge rich people until you’re in their custom-made shoes.

And they may be right. Not every rich person is out there conducting Ponzi schemes. In fact, at least 99% of that 1% are earning honest livings, just maybe a little bit more than you and me, or anyone we know personally.


Tower Heist follows Josh Kovacs, the building manager of a seriously luxurious high-rise in Manhattan, who finds out that the owner of the building, who lives in the penthouse, has been committing investment fraud. When it becomes obvious that the “lowly” employees of the building are never going to see their pensions again, Josh decides to break into the penthouse and see if he can’t find anything of value to get everyone’s money back. “Occupy The Penthouse”, if you will. Followed by “Occupy The Hallway”. Then “Occupy The Elevator Shaft”. Whatever it takes.

It’s an escapist movie. Moral-wise, is this an “Occupy Wall Street” propaganda film? I don’t think so. I also don’t think the movie is saying that if you’re hustled by a Ponzi scheme, you should put together a ragtag group of accomplices that includes a maid, a concierge, an elevator operator, and a mopey Matthew Broderick in a bathrobe, bail a guy out of jail to give you some tips, absolutely none of which are helpful, or even necessarily applicable to the kind of robbery you’re planning, and try to set things right. In real life, you can’t steal your money back. The best you can hope for is to sleep in a tent in the park with no clear goal in mind.

Okay, so not all of the 1% is scamming people to make money. Even though the movie takes place in a tower full of billionaires, only one of them is committing securities fraud, as far as we can tell.

And in fact, the 1% do a lot of good. Who do you think employs most of the other 99%? You know, besides for the 10% that is unemployed.

What really bugs the 99% is that the way the system is set up -- that the rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer.

I have no idea how finances work. I’ll admit that. If I had any idea of how finances worked, I wouldn’t be a writer. I am the 99%. But I always figured that the rich got richer because you have to spend money to make money. That’s my wife’s philosophy as well. I’m like, “Why are you spending so much money?” and she’s like, “Well, you won’t make money unless I spend money.”

Unfortunately, you also have to make money to spend money. But to do that, you have to spend money. And so on. That’s why the rich get richer.

Sure, we all heard that story of the guy who came into this country with nothing but the shirt on his back. (And some pants, we’re assuming. This country has a rule.) And then he sold the shirt, and used that money to buy two shirts, and used the money from those to buy four shirts, and he used that money to build an entire shirt empire until his board let him go for showing up to meetings without a shirt. Nowadays, expenses come too fast, and by the time you sell half your shirts, expenses have eaten away the other half, so you’ll always be stuck buying the same amount of shirts over and over again, forever.

But no one’s sure what the 99% want, exactly. Even these Occupy Wall Street protestors themselves seem to have no unified demands. What do they want? “The system is broken.” Okay, great. But what do you want? “It’s broken!” They don’t have a single unified demand, because anyone with the leadership abilities to figure it out is probably part of the 1%. “We want to close the gap,” the protestors say. But they don’t really say how.

Do they want the rich people to share? They worked hard for that money. Or hired someone to work hard for that money. If you have a lot of children and someone else does not, does that mean you should give them some of yours?

If you have a lot of children and someone else does not, does that mean you should give them some of yours?

You wish.

Do they want big corporations to stop outsourcing? Yeah, they’re outsourcing to India. They found cheaper workers there. If you find you can save money on your car insurance by switching to, let’s say, Geico, does that make you evil? It’s hard to judge rich people until you’re in their custom-made shoes.

No one faults the 1% for making money. It’s not their fault they’re rich.

But do you know the 99% have that the 1% don’t? 98 friends. Each with their own set of skills.

If Tower Heist teaches us anything, it’s that everyone has a talent. Assemble a ragtag team, and you can accomplish anything, although it will slowly become obvious that each member of your team is pretty incompetent at his given talents. But they make up for it in sheer number.

In real life, though, people are generally good at whatever their talent is. Some people’s natural talent is making money. Other people have talents that are maybe not great for making money. Does that make some people better than others?

Here’s the gap: If I’m good at baking, I try to share my baking with the world. Not for free. But my talent is baking, and at the end of the day, everyone gets cake, somehow or other. I make sure of that. But when your prime talent is making money, who are you making it for?

Unlike the villain of the movie, Josh is an actual leader. He pays attention to each person’s talent, and defines each person by where they come from and what they can do. If I’m not good at making money, but I’m good at cleaning floors, does that make me lower than you? Or am I cleaning your apartment so you can have time to focus on the things that you’re good at, that will not only support you but also support all the people working to make your life easier? Because I’m cleaning not only my floor, but yours as well.

As Lester the doorman says in a particularly weak moment, “All those years on the job, and it turns out that people can open their own doors.”

“Yes,” Josh says. “But not like you can.”

Our forefather, Jacob, had two sons who were very close in age – Yissachar and Zevulun. Yissachar was very studious, while Zevulun spent his talents making money -- according to the pictures on the wall of my shul -- doing business on his yacht. So Jacob arranged a partnership between them: Yissachar would share his knowledge with Zevulun, and Zevulun would fund Yissachar’s efforts.

How do we close the gap? We don’t all have to be good at everything, but we do have to recognize that, without each other’s strengths we would have to rely on our own shortcomings.

We all need each other to get through life, and we’re each just a piece of a machine. The 1% is a piece as well. The problem isn’t the 1% itself, it’s the 1% thinking that they’re not part of the 100%.

And of course only when we work together are we working at 100%.

November 13, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 7

(4) Anonymous, November 16, 2011 3:05 PM

Greed has multiple addresses

I keep hearing about how the wealthy steal from others. Does this mean that poor don't? Yes, there are bad people in the world...their address doesn't make the difference. Middle class people commit crime too.In my opinion, this isnt about bad vs good, this is about jealousy. The economy is bad so let's use a scapegoat...the rich. What's sad is how our gov't is encouraging this behavior....and we're letting them.

(3) John Smith, November 16, 2011 11:48 AM

Actually most of the 1% today inherited their money Hard work is a foreign notion to them You seem to forget that they are greedy (no one needs millions with high interest as a personal fortune), and that is a bad thing

Ann, November 18, 2011 3:37 PM

Who would the lazy inheriters be? Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Tom Cruise? Even someone who inherets wealth won't be wealthy for very long if they don't work hard at growing their wealth. This kind of talk hints at jealousy and I think this is what is at the root of the Occupy Movement and that is why it well never work. Jealousy of material wealth is a sin. Try surrounding yourself with people who are givers rather than takers, solution seekers rather than problem solvers, read "Holy Woman" to see what giving (Judiasm) is all about. It is giving rather than taking that makes us special. You can start by giving a smile to people, it's free for 100%, priceless and yet affordable to 1% and 99% alike but only when you give it away ;-)

(2) Steve C, November 16, 2011 8:54 AM

I see where you are coming from

You are correct the movement needs a concise agenda. Although it seems like entrepreneurs are being attacked I think that the whole protest the one percent theme is more of a conceptual idea that protests the unfair relationship that exists within Washington where the wealthy and large corporations have more influence on politicians via special interests lobbying than do their constituents and this augments an unfair system that not only improperly regulates markets but it also augments corruption rather than prevent it. In addition to this there exists an unfair tax code that gives too many breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals leaving the remaining population to cover the costs of sustaining society. In addition to this too much money is spent on defense, bail outs, corporate grants, and other such wasteful spending rather than on education and infrastructure which are investments that create jobs as well as create a vibrant competitive society. It is obvious that the agenda needs to be geared toward reforming government to serve the interests of the people rather than those of special interests.

(1) Anonymous, November 14, 2011 1:00 PM

Please go back and see this movie again. Then think about Bernie Madoff. Nobody deserves to have his/her pension stolen the way the Bernie Madoff character did in the movie. I do not begrudge anyone for becoming a billionaire, but I do have a huge problem with the greed which says it is perfectly okay to take the money from folks who "are just a bunch of working stiffs." (A quote from Alan Alda's character.)

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