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11 reviews, 58 user ratings

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Inside Man
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by Mel Valentin

"Spike, Denzel, Jody, Clive: it rarely gets any better than this."
4 stars

Early in his filmmaking career, Spike Lee ("She's Gotta Have It," "Do the Right Thing," "Malcolm X," "Clockers," "He Got Game") declared an admiration for Woody Allen's remarkable one-film-a-year productivity. He’s come close, building his career on provocative, challenging films that tackled race, class, and gender issues in contemporary America, but his fortunes have flagged as of late ("She Hate Me" anyone?). In directing "Inside Man," Lee has set aside social commentary (and didacticism) for straightforward genre filmmaking, producing a slick, mostly entertaining, bank robbery/hostage drama.

Inside Man starts off with Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), the mastermind behind the heist, directly addressing the camera. He gives us a brief rundown of his intentions and where he's ended up, but suggests that the rest of the film, unfolding via multiple flashbacks, will tell us the "how." Inside Man then segues into Russell picking up his three accomplices in a van, with Russell slipping into the crowded bank dressed as a painter. The bank robbery goes smoothly, with one or two minor exceptions.

Tipped to a bank robbery in progress, New York's finest rush to the scene. Detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), a detective with a pending internal affairs investigation on his mind, and his junior partner, Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor), are sent to lead the effort to end the standoff with minimal loss of life. Frazier has to quickly get a handle on the situation inside the bank, figure out what the bank robbers want, and contend with Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe), the “force-first, negotiate-second” head of the heavily armed tactical unit sitting outside the cordoned-off bank.

As it turns out, the chairman of the bank, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), has something of personal importance stored inside the bank that he desperately wants to protect. To that end, he pulls some strings with the Mayor, who, in turn, brings in a well-heeled power broker, Madeline White (Jodie Foster), to intercede on Case's behalf. With hostages still in the bank and Russell's deadlines approaching (he's threatening to kill the hostages if he doesn't get what he wants), the battle of personalities is on, with duplicity, deception, and more than one twist along the way.

With a stellar cast that includes Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, and Christopher Plummer, expectations are high that the performances will be, if nothing else, highly watchable. They are, of course. Props, though, to relative newcomer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British-born actor appearing with greater frequency in stateside films (he was last seen here as the villain in Joss Whedon's Serenity, but has appeared in British films, television, and on stage for the better part of a decade). While Ejiofor's New York accent sounds authentic, Ejiofor tends to mirror Denzel's speech patterns and mannerisms, perhaps reflecting the junior officer's unconscious desire to emulate his superior officer's attitudes and behaviors. It’s a clever, subtle acting choice that most viewers are likely to miss.

Russell Gewirtz's overly ambitious, convoluted plotting leads toward an overlong, post-climax denouement that explains everything that needs to be explained and that gives the hero the expected moment of triumph and redemption. Editing down Inside Man wouldn't have solved the problem, since you'd still need a satisfactory resolution to the underlying conflicts between the characters. Then you have the problem of the film unfolding in flashbacks, cutting between the flashbacks and later interviews with the released hostages. Although the flashback structure undercuts suspense and momentum, there are a few noteworthy surprises along the way that play with and subvert audience expectations.

With Spike Lee at the helm, audiences have come to expect a certain level of social and political commentary. Lee usually takes an all text, no subtext approach to his subjects (e.g., race, class, and gender in contemporary America). Working from Gewirtz's screenplay, however, the social commentary and sermonizing are kept to a minimum. Lee's New York remains a chaotic, energetic multi-ethnic, multi-cultural mélange (although the power brokers are most definitely of the Caucasian persuasion). Lee thankfully keeps 9/11 references to a minimum, with the exception of a Sikh bank employee who gets roughed up by overzealous police officers (he later complains about being confused for an Arab). If you dig a little deeper too, you’ll find another message: a negotiate first, violence second stance that proves to be the better course of action.

Russell Gewirtz shows above-average talent in plotting, character delineation, and dialogue (remarkable for a first-time writer). Likewise, Lee's (mostly) taut, lean direction proves what his often didactic, wordy oeuvre has tended to obscure: when he wants to be, Lee can be a top-notch director, grabbing his audiences through craft and storytelling rather than message or theme. In short, he knows how to entertain first and educate second (he’s just preferred the opposite approach). More like this, please.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14180&reviewer=402
originally posted: 06/12/06 16:21:40
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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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