Inside Man

on March 24, 2006 by Tim Cogshell
At the core of "Inside Man" is a sharp caper/thriller that's well-crafted by director Spike Lee and his group of collaborators, including actors Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen, as well as screenwriter Russell Gewirtz in his auspicious debut. This thriller about the perfect bank robbery, wherein both the cops and the robbers are genuinely smart and motivated, yet not superhuman nor without humanity, gets as close to very good as any similarly concerned Hollywood feature has come in the past decade or so. By measure, compare "Inside Man" to the recent Harrison Ford thriller "Firewall," an empty parody of the same genre that only serves to evoke the memory of better films. "Inside Man" will likely be remembered as one of those better films.

The plot here is dense, thus Lee and screenwriter Gewirtz unfurl it meticulously. Robbers enter a Manhattan bank dressed as painters; the authorities arrive in the form of the loquacious Detective Keith Frazier (Washington) and the NYPD. Nothing is as it seems, and Frazier knows it -- and, of course, the mastermind of the plan (Clive Owen) knows he knows it. Occasionally plot points are a bit on-the-nose, occasionally characters are stereotypes, occasionally this could all be a bit more subtle -- but generally it's engaging, funny and just a little surreal (e.g. Frazier's interesting mode of dress). Any given moment in the film is buoyed by either Washington's performance, Spike's stylistic flourishes or a bit sharp of writing. (Note that Gewirtz's screenplay is not adapted from some other medium; it was neither a book nor an article nor a previously produced movie. He just made it up.)

You will find all the trademark Spikeisms here, from his classic floating push-pull dolly shot to more than one overly-shrill diatribe about race. But there is a lot of plot to unravel in "Inside Man," so despite its two-hour-plus running time, Spike has limited opportunities to preach. The result is a film that takes its asides in much more subtle forms -- a violent video game in the hands of a young black child, a tossed-away line about being able to catch a cab made to a Sikh complaining about always being taken for a terrorist in airports. Here, they are as funny as they are pointed, and they are only part of a narrative in which a good deal more is going on than meets the eye. Starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer. Directed by Spike Lee. Written by Russell Gewirtz. Produced by Brian Grazer. A Universal release. Crime thriller. Rated R for language and some violent images. Running time: 129 min

Tags: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer, Directed by Spike Lee, Written by Russell Gewirtz, Produced by Brian Grazer, Universal, Crime thriller

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