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Worth A Look: 38.71%
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11 reviews, 58 user ratings

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Inside Man
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Spike Lee's most sheerly fun movie to date."
5 stars

Spike Lee, who just turned 49 (can you believe he's pushing fifty?) and is marking his twentieth year of feature filmmaking (I can't believe that either), has lost none of his energy or his voice. You can say some of his films are duds -- I certainly would -- but you can't say he's repeated himself, rested on his laurels, or taken money for a project he didn't believe in.

Inside Man, Lee's sixteenth narrative "joint" (not counting numerous concert films and documentaries), shows what this hot-blooded, sometimes hot-headed director can do when he decides to settle down and tell a story. A story that's probably too convoluted and dependent on plot holes, but still a restlessly engaging tall tale, a crackling cops-and-robbers drama that outmuscles anything else out there. (Which isn't hard.)

Carrying a little extra weight as hostage negotiator Keith Frazier, Denzel Washington ambles through the movie with the lightness of a serious actor happy to come to work on a smart piece of entertainment. Frazier's nemesis is Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), the coldly shrewd mastermind of a bank robbery. Russell and his three associates have taken a lot of people hostage, but they don't seem in any hurry to do what most bank robbers do, which is to, y'know, steal money. Their target lies inside a safety deposit box, which the bank's owner Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) does not want to be opened. Case calls on a higher authority -- a sort of executive facilitator named Madeline White (Jodie Foster) -- to intervene between the cops and the robbers.

Inside Man doesn't make a lot of logical sense when all is said and done. It seems like a lot of sound and fury signifying an anticlimax. Yet I doubt Spike Lee took this job just because he wanted a mainstream hit (as it happened, the movie's opening-weekend take was a career best for both him and Washington). Lee loves New York, and loves its jostling disharmony, its short-tempered melting pot. Here, he gets to throw lowlifes in with the elite, leading to a sharp dialogue bout between patrician Madeline and unshaven Russell, or amusingly unlikely sparring between working-man Frazier and gray eminence Case. I think Lee made the movie just to shoot the dialogue (by Russell Gewirtz), and maybe secondarily to run a heist flick through the blender of his style.

What I'll remember from Inside Man are the odd exchanges, like the one between Frazier and a white cop who consciously has to check his reflexively racist speech; Frazier chooses to let it slide, to let the cop be what he is, as long as the conversation leads to some insight. Or the way Russell sits down with a little black kid over pizza and registers surprise at the violent Grand Theft Auto-like game on the boy's PSP. (I enjoy GTA myself, but Lee has a point to make about gangsta culture playing itself out in games, and he makes it well and hilariously.) Or the way Jodie Foster -- for once not playing a role model -- enjoys being smug and powerful; I've always known she had a terrific villain in her, and this role is about halfway there. The movie is full of entertaining digressions, like the way hard-bitten SWAT cop Willem Dafoe and another cop get in each other's face over a cryptic trick question Russell asks Frazier. Or the difference between delivering pizza and sandwiches to the hostages, and what it means when Russell ends a phone call by snapping "Next time send sandwiches." Most of the movie is, in fact, an entertaining digression.

I can't say Inside Man is up there with Dog Day Afternoon (one of several predecessors it references), but it has the same interest in the people in the situation, rather than just in the situation. Critics like Roger Ebert have poked holes in the script's logic, as if every movie needed to be a hermetic vault safe from nitpickers. Logic isn't Spike Lee's strong point. He nails the irritable yet alive soul of New York -- particularly, now, New York post-9/11 -- better than anyone else.

Sometimes he doesn't have the right story or characters to animate his ongoing ode to the city. Sometimes he does. And sometimes he just wants to enjoy himself, as he clearly does here. 'Inside Man' is probably the most basically fun movie Lee has ever made.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14180&reviewer=416
originally posted: 02/01/07 20:48:00
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User Comments

9/21/17 morris campbell good imho 4 stars
10/29/13 The Big D Peee-eee--yew, did it stink! What's with trying to make bank robbers seem respectable? 1 stars
5/02/10 daveyt a mix of Spike and genre, style and substance. Entertaining enough 4 stars
10/06/09 Wade Frith I thought it was brilliant. It's very "read between the lines" u need to watch it carefully 5 stars
8/09/09 Jeff Wilder Commercial. But Lee's most purely enjoyable movie and an intelligent thriller with humor. 4 stars
9/30/08 Shaun Wallner I really enjoyed this film. 5 stars
7/29/08 chris f really good thriller enjoyed it very tense 5 stars
10/19/07 Double M Tense, gripping w/ sociopolitical innuendos BUT the upbeat Oceans 11 ending didn't fit much 4 stars
7/15/07 Ry crap... 2 stars
6/11/07 AJ Muller Really well done. Top notch cast, taut direction & clever script make this a winner. 4 stars
5/23/07 Matt Foster's pointless role does nothing to help lift this seen-it-all-b4 effort. 2 stars
1/10/07 Tracey Chambers loved it. thought it was smart and clever. 5 stars
1/04/07 Taylor Fladgate I can't believe these high ratings. The script was simple, from a high school production. 2 stars
12/15/06 Quigley A highly original heist film with great direction and acting. Clive Owen stole the show 5 stars
11/24/06 R.W.Welch Labyrinthian heist flick has slick production, above par acting. 4 stars
11/20/06 MP Bartley Lee wobbles slightly trying to keep all the balls in the air, but it's a grand effort still 4 stars
11/16/06 Steve Newman Best film for ages - see, see and see again 5 stars
11/15/06 jert not crap, not great, just okay hostage flick 3 stars
11/14/06 Bantu it was so entartaining! 5 stars
11/13/06 ras Good,entertaining, Spike tries to make his characters/story believable like ordinary people 5 stars
10/23/06 Clive Owen How did the MAIN bank robber KNOW about the box? 3 stars
10/13/06 jeanne Utter crap! From Denzel's endless smirk to Spike's community-theater directing: ugh 1 stars
10/12/06 John Chal Chaaiya Chaaiya Chaaiya!!! 5 stars
9/25/06 Indrid Cold A superior hostage movie, but nothing to write home about. 4 stars
9/04/06 Joe Smaltz Started pretty typical,bank/hostage. Started intrigue, and went nowhere, wouldn't recomend 3 stars
8/11/06 action movie fan excitng, clever procedural bank heist film--uiique for spike lee 5 stars
7/09/06 Gretchen Seitz Thanks, BrianO, for acknowledging that end "whimper"; I had thought I was missing something 3 stars
6/13/06 SteveO Smart, well-written, entertaining, solid cast - but a bit long. Spike, learn to EDIT! 4 stars
6/12/06 Michael Had low expectations, but Spike is back! 4 stars
5/05/06 alice entertaining ! 4 stars
5/01/06 jaibi joseph this movie is one of those intelligent genre 5 stars
4/26/06 The Outside Man Cool Flik! 5 stars
4/23/06 alien assassin intelligent thriller with a clever twist at the end 5 stars
4/22/06 Paul Coran Kept me on the edge of my seat. However, disagree that the crime was victimless. 4 stars
4/19/06 spacecowboy awesome characters 5 stars
4/17/06 Agent Sands Clive Owen plays one of the greatest movie criminals since the 1960s. 4 stars
4/16/06 Angela What a great character study. I went to see it again the following night just to see what c 5 stars
4/15/06 john bale Spike Lee's snappy direction lifts this heist thriller & certainly makes him mainstream 5 stars
4/08/06 Don held my interest, a little too long 3 stars
4/08/06 KingNeutron Awesome, except for the weird music. 5 stars
4/08/06 jack who wrote the dialog? boooring 2 stars
4/08/06 Koitus "Good" flick. A couple of obvious questions trip up the story-line, though. 4 stars
4/06/06 Helen Bradley Great story unnecessary ecessive vilonece 3 stars
4/03/06 don.bishop@ntlworld.com You know nothing! What about Chase I mean Case. In fact Frazier was ahead remember the pen 5 stars
4/02/06 Graham I think Spike Lee's just discovered subtlety. And I think it suits him. 4 stars
4/02/06 millersxing As suspenseful as Hitchcock's Rope in revealing the "perfect" crime 5 stars
4/01/06 Eevil Wolfie It was ok I guess. Got kind of boring after a while. 3 stars
4/01/06 vinyltap A truly remarkable flick. For one, I loved the robbers who used brains instead of brawn 5 stars
4/01/06 malcolm seemed like it would never end but one of lee's better ones. denzel - hypnotizing as usual. 4 stars
4/01/06 Suaa well made and entertaining but the plot twists are pretty obvious 4 stars
3/29/06 Matt Thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it 5 stars
3/29/06 Josh Standlee I loved the acting, but this was NOT an action movie. It really isn't worth anyone's time. 2 stars
3/28/06 Ole Man Bourbon Well made, but never goes anywhere. The story's even given away halfway through. 4 stars
3/27/06 Danny Johanson This movie was absolutely awesome and brilliant. 5 stars
3/27/06 Brian Meyer Absolutely the smartest action movie in years! 5 stars
3/27/06 Julie wow, so much going on and so satisfying. 5 stars
3/26/06 Arthur Klein A terriffic film from a great New York film maker. 5 stars
3/26/06 bobo really good. 5 stars
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  24-Mar-2006 (R)
  DVD: 08-Aug-2006



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