Inside Man


Reviewed by: Scott Davis

Inside Man
"Frenetically paced and fiercely delivered."

With Inside Man, director Spike Lee takes something of a departure from his usual urban, hard-hitting dramas about race, sex, cultures and religion and instead takes on the heist movie - and in doing so makes his most accessible movie to date. It's a path a lot of independent directors have taken over the last few years, notably the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch and Christopher Nolan, all of whom have had success in the mainstream. But as this film opens on Clive Owen's rugged demeanour, it's obvious that even though we are in a Spike Lee "joint", it's not what we have come to expect.

Owen's bank robber Dalton Russell begins proceedings speaking directly into camera, relating the logistics and plans he has set in motion to execute the perfect bank robbery, flawless in every way. Deception is the name of the game here as Russell describes what he intends to do in one of New York's most illustrious banks, down to the smallest of details. And, one sunny morning, his plans are put into action, as he and his crew begin their apprehension of said bank, taking the bank's staff and customer's hostage as they go.

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Of course, this being one of America's major cities, it isn't long before NYPD and FBI boys are called in, flooding the scene with cars, vans and armoured squads. The man in charge of the negotiations with the perpetrators is local cop Keith Frazier (Washington), who with partner Bill Mitchell (Ejiofor) and Captain Darius (Dafoe), quickly stamps his authority on proceedings, using his expertise and experience to try to extinguish the situation quickly.

But what looks like the perfect bank robbery from the outside, meticulous in its planning, stunning in its execution, slowly unfolds itself into something much more than its cover lets on, with strange demands and unorthodox routines becoming more apparent, leaving Frazier struggling to keep up with his masked assailant. To complicate matters further, a mysterious woman named Madeleine White (Foster) is brought into the fray, under strict instructions from the bank's chairman (Plummer) to retrieve vital information from a security box inside the bank that, if exposed, could be devastating to both him and the US government.

One thing's for sure, this movie certainly does twist and turn throughout the whole of its two-hour running time, moving this way and that as the heist unravels, and the true intentions of the facade become evident. And even though this is a very different Spike Lee film, the director still acquits himself excellently. His direction is frenetically paced and fiercely delivered, perfect for this type of highly-charged thriller. His use of camera is superb, ranging from swooping crane shots, hand-held images that add a nice documentary-style edge, to the excellent one-camera shot at the movie's start.

The downfall of the film is the script. For the first hour or so it's all great fun, full of excitement as the heist begins, with the cops in pursuit trying desperately to free the hostages and bring to justice those responsible. You might say it starts as, dare I say it, the perfect action-thriller. But it's here where Russell Gewirtz's script becomes too clever for its own good. The twists come thick and fast, but there are so many one after the other, that the film becomes twisted up in its own story, leading to an uneven final third, and a revelation that after all has gone before it, seems lacklustre and pointless. In addition, there are numerous references to terrorism and the Nazis that give the script an uncertain political slant that it never seems wholly comfortable with.

In the acting stakes meanwhile, it's a mixed bag. Washington is as powerful as always, adding great dynamism and strength to the film and enjoys a fantastic rapport with partner Ejiofor and Dafoe throughout. Clive Owen meanwhile, while good on the whole, fails to convince as the "bad" guy here, lacking any sort of menace. And his American accent still leaves a lot to be desired. Most disappointing of all, though, is Jodie Foster, who is very off colour here. Sure, her character is horribly underdeveloped and an inconsequential element of the story, but Foster seems out of her depth, and decidedly uninteresting throughout, lacking her usual grace and charm that has stood her so well in the past.

Entertaining yet muddled, Inside Man still stands as Spike Lee's most mainstream effort to date, and adds his own style and intensity to the genre. Aided by his muse Denzel Washington in another powerhouse performance, the movie should entertain the majority of the movie masses. However, those expecting an edge-of-your seat thrill ride that's a class above your usual standard thriller may be disappointed.

Reviewed on: 23 Mar 2006
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Spike Lee takes on the heist genre.
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Anton Bitel *****

Director: Spike Lee

Writer: Russell Gewirtz

Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Doug Aguirre, Waris Ahluwalia, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe, Daryl Mitchell, Christopher Plummer, Ashlie Atkinson, Robert Bizik

Year: 2006

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


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