Editor’s Note: This is an R rated movie (mostly language). Really good movie! But don’t grab it thinking you’re in for a family-friendly action-flick in the same vein as ‘National Treasure’…
Inside Man by Spike Lee is considered by many to be his first commercial film. While I agree with this sentiment, I believe that Lee is not simply pandering to a mainstream audience but drawing them in with convention and then offering more substance; straddling the line between commercial and independent. The fortunate thing is that while he is using more mainstream filmmaking conventions than in the past, he doesnt neglect to infuse the film with his independent techniques and individual ideas. He manages to create a heist film that is wholly original and unique.
This is a film about a cunning bank robbery. And much of the credit for the basic plot and structure must go to screenwriter Russell Gewirtz for his highly intriguing story. However, Lee takes this story and runs with it, showing an adept precision in handling the intensity required to propel the film forward, while adding a touch of humor, and downplaying the action. The intrigue and excitement relies on the way the dangerous affair plays out psychologically between the two leads; and the only action sequence unfolds as a presupposition of actual events.
Another thing that sets this film apart from the typical genre film is Spike Lees strength at rendering and developing character. Pitting Denzel Washington as the detective in charge of negotiation, against Clive Owens bank robber is an exciting battle of wits. As the film opens we are introduced to Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and it is immediately clear that we are dealing with an intelligent individual who has a carefully thought out plan. As the opening credits role we are taken from Coney Island through the boroughs of New York City until we end up in front of a bank located just off Wall Street. The things that immediately work about this particular location are how cramped and limited it feels, and how one immediately associates Wall Street with wealth and power.
As the robbers take control of the bank creating a hostage situation, detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and his partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are called in to handle the negotiation. Christopher Plummer plays the owner of the bank; a wealthy individual who upon discovering which branch is being robbed, begins to show unease and is compelled to bring in Madeleine White. Madeleine White, played by Jodie Foster, solves problems, for the right price. And her intelligence and talent for manipulation, as well as her apathy towards morals make her the most sinister character in the film.
As the plot unfolds, we along with detective Frazier, start to suspect that there is more to this heist than meets the eye. Given that the robbers seem to understand the police procedures almost too well, coupled with the appearance of Madeleine White, Frazier starts testing Russell to find out his true nature.
Both Denzel Washington and Clive Owen play their characters perfectly, and this is quite a feat as Owens Dalton Russell is disguised and concealed from head to toe for nearly the entire duration of the film. This physical obstacle strips Owen of the ability to use facial expression and makes acting opposite him more difficult. However, this adds a dimension of mystery and frustration, which is thoroughly important to keeping the audience involved. Added to all of this is Lees particular love and fascination with New York City and its diversity. He creates moments dealing with racial misunderstanding, sexism, and the glorification of violence. However, none of these moments ever come across as heavy handed, in fact some of these are actually treated with a humorous touch which adds a fairness to each of the characters and creates added depth.
Released on DVD by Universal Studio, the disc offers a great way to watch the film for anyone who may have missed it in the theatre. Added, as a bonus is an interesting commentary by director Spike Lee where he elaborates on some of the themes and parts of the story and script, which initially attracted him to the project and how he developed these ideas.