© 2006 Ray Wong
Director Spike Lee is best known for his edgy, antsy films about African-Americans. Inside Man must be his most mainstream, commercial work to date, and the result is admirable.
Dalton Russell (Owen) has concocted what he considers the perfect bank robbery. His well executed plan starts off with him and his accomplices posing as painters. Within minutes, Russell has complete control of the bank, holding about fifty people, bank employees and customers alike, hostage. Detective Keith Frazier (Washington) and his partner Bill Mitchell (Ejiofor) are entrusted with the responsibility as hostage negotiators. Frazier tries to figure out what Russell really wants and gain an upper hand.
Meanwhile, the bank’s founder, Arthur Case (Plummer) hires top negotiator Madeline White (Foster) to take care of some business at the bank branch. Apparently, Case has something super secret in his safe deposit box and he would like to keep that a secret. White gladly takes the job (for an exorbitant fee, of course) without caring what is inside the box. The cat-and-mouse game continues as Russell, Frazier, and White try to outsmart one another. In time, Frazier realizes that the crime isn’t what it seems.
Washington (The Manchurian Candidate) is charismatic, cocky, but also vulnerable as Frazier. He gives an interesting and down-to-earth performance of a man who is sometimes irritatingly full of himself. Owen (Derailed) is focused as the calm, smart and calculated heist master. His demeanor makes us believe that his character truly believes that he has the perfect plan. Foster (Flightplan) plays against type as the ruthless business woman that even the mayor affectionately calls her a “magnificent c---.” She does a good job.
Plummer (The New World) is stoic and meek as the rich man with a past. Somehow, he gains our sympathy even though instinctively we know we shouldn’t. Dafoe (American Dreamz) is solid as NYPD Captain John Darius, whose calmness and strong command are in direct contrast to Frazier’s confusion. Ejiofor (Serenity) is an interesting sidekick to Washington, but his character doesn’t have much depth, or anything at stake, to really make us care about him.
First-time screenwriter Gewirtz’s script is taut and smart. Sure, he gives a lot away, and those who are smart enough would have guessed the plot twists and the ending, but Gewirtz does his best keeping us guessing, keeping his plot one step ahead of the audience. The dialogue sounds real, and there is enough humor to give the story a light-hearted feel (though not comedic like Ocean Eleven). There are times when the action and plot become heavy-handed, and there are certain holes in the plot that one might argue about their plausibility. But Gewirtz’s script is fast-paced enough that audience is too busy figuring out if Dalton Russell is really going to pull it off, and what Frazier will do.
Lee (25th Hour) is a deft and smooth director. This film seems like a departure from his other films, but he pulls off some good work, here. Lee manages to keep the pace quick and the subplots clear and untangled. Again, through the direction and editing, he gives a lot away and a smart audience would be able to figure things out. However, that’s not the point. Lee doesn’t set out to fool the audience – he is on our side; he wants us to get the story. And that is very interesting and admirable for a director making a thriller like this. Even the title hints at the denouement but the filmmakers still keep you guessing. Inside Man is smart, effective, and it keeps us entertained to the end.
Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Russell Gewirtz
MPAA Rating: R for language and violence
Running Time: 129 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10