Thursday, August 10, 2006


Inside ManDenzel Washington Directed by Spike Lee
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



Is INSIDE MAN supposed to be a mindlessly stimulating bank heist film? Or a thought-provoking take on urbanism, race, money, power, and history? Blending the two would’ve been a spectacular feat, but INSIDE MAN too often misses the mark or simply stretches credibility to the breaking point.

The story starts like a basic heist flick but with a few subtle quirks. Clive Owen stars as bank robber genius Dalton Russell who takes over a bank in Manhattan, hostages and all. But why he’s there is the big running question. He makes no move to dash in and out with the money, and seems content to sit and wait out the police.

Enter Denzel Washington as Junior Detective Keith Frazer. Being a hostage negotiator, the detective decides to play by the book, waiting out Dalton’s gang and making false promises of arriving buses and planes. But Detective Frazer soon realizes that something is amiss. Dalton is delaying everything, too. And none of the hostages have been killed, even when deadline demands come and go.

Into the fray comes Christopher Plummer as Arthur Case, the banks founder. He has secrets in a safety deposit box that he’ll do anything to keep secret. In rapid (and confusing) fashion, he contacts Madeline White (Jodi Foster, FLIGHTPLAN), a woman who has contacts in high places and can usually get whatever a client wants. Bending the ear of the mayor, Ms. White gets on the inside with the police and secures a private meeting with Dalton, who quickly advises her that he’s already opened Mr. Case’s safety deposit box and retrieved ...

Okay, I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag.

Suffice to say there are good qualities about the film (thus my positive rating). The acting is spot-on perfect (from
Willem Dafoe’s grumpy street cop persona to Clive Owen’s questionable bank robber status). Filming was exceptional with director Spike Lee incorporating the darkness inside the bank in contrast to the white masks of the hostage-takers/robbers (White masks? Hmm. Think he’s trying to tell us something?)

The movie’s pace was satisfactory, too, though it perhaps got bogged down in some of the overly-developed plot devices that were extraneous or outlandish (the cops would NEVER let a citizen — Foster — into the bank with armed suspects regardless of her contacts).

There are also a lot of irritatingly undeveloped items. Most notably were Jodi Foster’s character and the basis for Clive Owen’s gang. There is no history surrounding Foster’s character so we don’t know how she got started in this business (whatever her "business" was) nor how Christopher Plummer’s character knows how to get ahold of her. Clive Owen’s gang must’ve been some sort of modern day Nurembergers, still tracking down Nazi and Nazi sympathizers, but why and where they came from remains a mystery throughout.

In recent typical Hollywood fashion, the good guys aren’t so good and the bad guys are better than all. Christopher Plummer plays the dark figure we so love to see him play that it is, unfortunately, almost a cliche. Denzel is the black detective trying to advance his career while at the same time battling prejudice within his own department (another cliche?).

Still, it was fun to watch. The fact that there’s really no bloodshed makes this bank heist film unique by current day standards. Most have explosions with bodies flying through the air and clip after clip after clip of ammo being loosed. Not here.

If you’ve got a few hours to kill at home, you might consider plopping this into your DVD player and checking it out. Just don’t think too hard about the
INSIDE MAN after it’s over.

Click here for the Inside Man movie trailer!


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