2 hours, 9 minutes
Photo Credit: David Lee
At first glance, this week’s film, the bank heist thriller “Inside Man,” looks to be another in a long line of throwaway blockbuster action films. Not bad, but nothing to write home about either. The hook with this movie, however, is in its director: Spike Lee. But, where he can certainly breathe new life into this common caper, any Spike Lee “Joint” comes with plenty of cons to go with its pros.
Denzel Washington, in a role that requires little effort beyond having to deliver Lee’s signature (and ridiculous) “black” dialogue, is detective Keith Frazier, a cop in the doghouse after a substantial amount of money goes missing on a bust he headlined. Clive Owen is Dalton Russell, a mysterious bank robber with questionable motives.
When Dalton and his gang decide to ply their trade at a large Manhattan bank, Frazier and his partner are given the chance to redeem themselves by bringing a swift and bloodless end to what quickly becomes a hostage situation. Nothing, however, seems to go as planned. As hour stretches into hour, Frazier and the police outside begin to realize that if what is going on in the bank is simply burglary, it’s the strangest case of it anyone has ever seen.
Complicating matters is Jodie Foster as Madeline White, a mysterious power broker who has all the connections and is tasked with protecting a secret inside the bank, at any cost. With such a complicated set-up, “Inside Man” had great potential to fall flat in the third act, but instead succeeds in providing one of the most satisfying conclusions to a thriller that I’ve seen in years.
The plot, in this film, is its greatest asset. Tightly constructed and meticulously weaved, it rarely falters and suffers few if any lapses of logic or glaring plot holes. There are a few points where the film indulges in typical thriller-isms, but they are few and far between. The majority of the plot is creative, energetic and entertaining.
The character development also is well done. “Inside Man” is a film that doesn’t feel the need to rush through the action, and as a result, the audience has time to get to know the people inhabiting it a little.
Lee employs a flash-forward technique at times, an element of the film that I thought worked particularly well, giving us real insight into the characters of not only the police, but the hostages, as well.
The character I was most disappointed with was Foster’s. Her character is interesting because she is so powerful, and so playful at the same time. She reminded me almost of a Greek god, come down to play among the mortals, wickedly amused at how we bumble around.
For all this great build-up, however, she is oddly ineffectual, and not really quite strange enough. More could have been made of her quirky good humor, and more could have been given to us in the way of backstory or at least in examples of arenas where her power is legitimate. Despite good acting, in the end she comes off, not as omnipotent as is intended, but as undeservedly cocky.
The other main detriment to this film comes in the form of Lee’s bursts of silly and out-of-place dialogue. Lee didn’t write the movie, and for most of the time, the dialogue is sharp, matching the plot.
At odd moments, however, you can definitely hear the director’s pen on the script, adding glaringly out-of-character crude remarks, or corny “street” talk. “Inside Man” is arguably Lee’s first real “mainstream” movie, but it seems he was unable to make a complete leap from the world of independent film to big-budget hollywood.
Aside from a few snippets of poorly written dialogue, I think that’s a good thing, and the film is better for the mix of avant-garde and traditional filmmaking techniques. Who knows, if Lee can parlay this first weekend’s success into a lasting hit, he might become Hollywood’s new “Inside Man.” Grade: B+
“Inside Man” is rated R for language and brief violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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