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USA 2006
Directed by
Spike Lee
130 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
2 stars

Inside Man

Synopsis: Bank robber Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) leads a heist on a top bank in Manhattan. After hostages are taken, Detective Frazier (Denzel Washington) is put in charge of the negotiations. But it soon becomes apparent that this is not your standard robbery. Throw in the bank’s aging CEO Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) and a mysterious trouble-shooter with links to high places, Madeline White (Jodie Foster), and the plot thickens to reveal the heist is not what it initially seemed to be.

I’ve always loved early Spike Lee films with their confrontingl take on Black America and their incisive humour, so I found myself asking after viewing this mainstream thriller, what the hell was he thinking? The main word that comes to my mind is “a hotch-potch” – a film cobbled together out of various elements that do not gel into a whole, neither style-wise nor plot-wise. Sad, because there are some excellent actors present.

Alarm bells rang from the word go when a typically Hindi-Bollywood song played over the opening credits, and I then rapidly realised that this had absolutely nothing to do with the main plot. Leading man Owen then speaks directly to camera exhorting us to take careful note of his name and telling us about the incredible cleverness of the heist he has carried out. He is then largely hidden under a mask for virtually the rest of the film, which somewhat detracts from his character despite masks being related to the developing plot. 

The opening scenes of Manhattan and its impressive architecture, aided by Matthew Libatique's cinematography and Terence Blanchard's music grabs your attention with a sense of great portenteousness, and once the action begins a certain amount of tension is generated in the scenes in which the criminals terrify the bank customers. But then the film proceeds to skip around alarmingly with its time frame taking us to after-the-event interviews with the hostages. These are not only oddly harassing but are filmed in a grainy, jaundiced green and look very out of place with the rest of the slick production.

By the time that Jodie Foster arrives on the scene as some kind of power-dressing City Hall fixer, I was beginning to lose track of what was going on. Indeed all the scenes with Foster fall flat as it is impossible to tell whether she is to be considered as a somewhat bemused pragmatist or a first class bitch. I think it should be the latter. In one long scene with Washington and Foster, Labatique films them in such a way that the pair are obscured in shadows, suggesting that Lee needed to cover her up, although her character does so little that her entire part could have been beneficially removed. 

Lee's main man, Denzel Washington, in a role he could play in his sleep, is, as always watchable as the head cop, balancing humour, affability and efficiency, but the dialogue he is given is at times grating and unbelievable. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Frazier’s partner, Bill Mitchell, and he gets some screen-time, but poor old Willem Dafoe is totally wasted in the role of policeman in charge of the crime scene. Plummer is wonderfully dignified in his role, but the aspects of the plot involving him and his character’s subterfuge are just too far-fetched. Why would one keep evidence of one's wretched past for sixty years?  And how Russell knew about it and how he gained access to the security box is a mystery. As for what was the business about digging a hole in the floor, let alone how anyone could live concealed in a makeshift "prison" for a week without toilet facilities, well the questions keep mounting up. Like, for another instance, the film's oddly tongue-in-cheek ending. 

Occasionally Lee interpellates his social conscience stuff into the proceedings as well as throwing  in his trademark visual gimmicks such as the split focus but they seem so self-conscious and irrelevant to the plot, as if the director was merely applying a top coat of the Lee house style to material with which he had no real investment. Interesting elements are here but they don't come close to making a satisfying film.




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