*** (out of 5)
March 24, 2006
Denzel Washington as KEITH FRAZIER
Clive Owen as DALTON RUSSELL
Jodie Foster as MADELIENE WHITE
Chiwetel Ejiofor as BILL MITCHELL
Willem Dafoe as JOHN DARIUS
Christopher Plummer as ARTHUR CASE
Directed by: Spike Lee
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Spike Lee has traditionally made very socially relevant pictures with innovative filmmaking techniques. For indie film geeks, his movies are required viewing.
However, like the other indie film phenoms of the 80s and 90s, Lee has been struggling to build his own filmmaking identity in movies today. Also, he’s been trying to reach out to a more mainstream audience. “Inside Man” is his latest attempt.
On the surface, “Inside Man” does not appear to be a traditional Spike Lee joint. Instead, it seems more like a summer blockbuster that should be starring Bruce Willis. It tells the story of a thief named Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) who has planned the perfect bank robbery. He and his team take a New York bank branch hostage and begin the long wait with the hostage negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington).
However, as things start to be revealed, Frazier feels that this is more than a traditional bank robbery. And when he is contacted by a freelance negotiator named Madeliene White (Jodie Foster), he knows there’s more to this crime than what he sees.
Taken strictly as a hostage suspense film with plenty of twists and turns, “Inside Man” does the job. It does keep you guessing, and it tosses out plenty of red herrings to throw off the scent of the truth. Although it does borrow some plot points from other films like “Quick Change” and “The Ladykillers,” overall it gives a nice spin on a tired genre.
However, the problems with “Inside Man” stem from Spike Lee himself. Although “Inside Man” is pretty much your standard mainstream film, Lee just can’t resist trying to do a movie with social relevance. He shoehorns his political views in various parts of the plot, including some completely unnecessary scenes that paint the NYPD as a bunch of racist cops. That’s a big surprise coming from Spike Lee.
Lee also stumbles with some of his filmmaking techniques that seem completely out of place with the scope of the film. The signature Spike Lee shot of the actor standing on a dolly is overused in this film, and it just doesn’t work in this flavor of movie.
The acting is pretty solid, which is to be expected from Denzel Washington, who has collaborated with Lee many times in the past. Clive Owen turns out a nice performance as a sympathetic villain. Even Jodie Foster, who can get annoying when she’s spotlighted too heavily in a movie, comes across rather well.
Still, Lee keeps throwing curve balls into his own playbook, and they don’t fit in. As a life-long New Yorker, it’s clear that Lee loves the city. He’s made his own homage to New York in his films before, and here he tips his hat to the people of the city. However, he gives them so much attitude that they become mockeries of themselves.
Lee also can’t resist taking jabs at post 9/11 racial profiling, at the same time painting Jews as greedy people. Ultimately, I would have liked to seen what this movie would have been like without Lee at the helm. I wonder if the racial and social b.s. was a result of his involvement or something that existed all along and drew him to the project.
In the end, “Inside Man” works for what it should be. Unfortunately, it tries to be more – more socially relevant, more racially sensitive, more politically saturated – than it really should.