A Tale of "Riddle Me This" in Gotham City                                 Film Review: "Inside Man"

By Omar P.L. Moore/March 25, 2006

"I choose my words very carefully..." or words to that effect, spoken by Clive Owen, begin Spike Lee's intrepid and highly intelligent "Inside Man", a thoroughly enjoyable exercise in brain-teasing, solid acting and stellar entertainment.  Dalton Russell (Owen) is behind bars, explaining his plan to commit the "perfect bank robbery", an almost-immaculately conceived robbery, in fact.  Russell is clinical, calculating and always a step ahead of the pursuers in this mental cat-and-mouse chase. 

One of the principal chasers is New York City Police Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), a man who has unclean hands from a prior corruption scandal involving the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  As a means to career redemption, Det. Frazier has been racking his brain to solve the broad daylight bank robbery and Russell's motivations and machinations, and he is frustrated.  Frazier and his colleague (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) interview witnesses to the robbery in an effort to solve the case, which has received the attention of the Mayor and numerous very well-heeled socialites.  One of those is Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), who for the right price, or a price that is too high, can get things "done".  Ms. Foster commands this character in both subtle and distinctive ways, making White both appealing and beguiling at the same time.  White is the most intriguing character in this mystery-thriller, and there is always a thought or two that she is a very powerful force to be reckoned with.


Inside Man Movie Stills: Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Spike Lee 

The Insiders: Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster get down to business and Clive Owen places a warning call in Spike Lee's "Inside Man". 
(Photos: David Lee/Universal Pictures)

There is a bank manager played by Christopher Plummer, who has been victimized by the assault on one of his principal branches.  Commanding the investigation at first is a police commander played by Willem Dafoe.  This collection of actors in one film is truly impressive, but the acting itself, particularly from Mr. Plummer, is the one of the highlights of "Inside Man".  Mr. Washington continues to show us why he is the world's top actor, particularly in wordless moments when the expressions on his face speaks volumes.  Detective Frazier, as played by Mr. Washington is fearless, even reckless and a vulnerable soul, all at the same time.  As Dalton Russell Mr. Owen shines brightly, taking his acting (much of it behind a mask and dark shades) to a higher echelon.  Through his mask Mr. Owen exudes a menace that haunts the big screen.  Better yet, his intellectual and physical face-offs with Mr. Washington are compelling and entertaining.  The interplay between them is thrilling and suspenseful.

Spike Lee's latest is the director's first that has the largest earmarks of the "Hollywood" label stamped on it.  Even though "Malcolm X" was mostly financed by Warner Brothers, this new effort was completely budgeted by Universal Pictures.  For two decades now Mr. Lee has prided himself on being uniquely independent -- and he still is -- yet you can tell that with the help of a stronger budget his creativity is further augmented -- and no less uncompromised.  There are distinct cinematic trademarks from Mr. Lee, which keep the film real and grounded.  (And in a quick shot if you look carefully you will see pizza boxes with the "Sal's Famous Pizzeria" logo on them, a suggestion that Sal's Pizzeria in "Do The Right Thing" has continued to thrive in the years since its tumultuous experiences.) 

Movie Poster Image for Inside Man

Courtesy of Universal Pictures    

Terence Blanchard's music score is his most subtle to date,  and the opening credit music is fantastic.  Mr. Lee has not allowed time to wither the memories of September 11, 2001 in this film.  There is also the very real specter of racial profiling of Muslims and Arabs by the New York Police Department in "Inside Man", and while some in the audience may find this humorously depicted in "Inside Man", Mr. Lee can hardly be seen as intending it that way.  No director captures the textures or tapestries of New York City better than Mr. Lee.  "Do The Right Thing" showed this, "Summer of Sam" amplified this, and "25th Hour" -- which "Inside Man" could be a distant cousin of -- confirmed this.

"Inside Man" is unquestionably the most mainstream of the films that Spike Lee has crafted, with Brian Grazer producing and Russell Gewirtz writing.  The script, his first, is a gem, with some terrific lines, including some that are a riddle in and of themselves.  The film cost about $45 million -- money well spent.  Mr. Lee keeps things moving at a frenetic pace and winks several times at Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon", a film which he has long admired.  Matty Libatique's cinematography of the witness interviews is a crucial ingredient to ascertaining the time sequences in "Inside Man".
"Inside Man" invites us to play the ultimate guessing game.  Even when it is over, the temptation to keep guessing continues.  On the surface you think you know what is going on, but "Inside Man" is proof that the devil truly is in the details.  A second viewing will undoubtedly enrich the viewer.  Thought-provoking, densely-layered, fascinating, and with a depth that sneaks up on you, it's by far the shrewdest, if not the best film, of the year to date.

Copyright 2006.  All Rights Reserved.



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