- Rated R
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All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
nside Man” is like some dream team blend of Spike Lee’s sass with the taut suspense of John McTiernan or Wolfgang Petersen’s best work. (Why yes, it has indeed been a long time since either of them made a good movie, but their good stuff was really good.) It’s funny, it’s nerve-racking, it carries a slight whiff of Rich Whitey Condescension – thankfully, Lee makes his point and moves on, rather than stopping to swing his big stick – but most importantly, it doesn’t cheat us with a ridiculous ending.
The movie begins, oddly enough, with a fourth-wall introduction from Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), a man who claims to have a plan for the perfect crime. Next thing we see, Dalton and a few goons walk into First Manhattan Bank dressed as painters, (their faces and eyes are covered), lock up the joint and announce they’re robbing the place. The man assigned to serve as hostage negotiator is Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), who’s currently being investigated for a bunch of cash disappearing on another case. Dalton – in a curious kiss and tell, we learn the mastermind’s name, but no one else in the movie does – has planned this day well, right down to dressing both hostage and hostile in identical clothing, thus making all exchanges and negotiations that much more complicated.
So imagine Frazier’s displeasure in seeing power broker Madeliene White (Jodie Foster) brought in – with the ringing endorsement of the mayor – to “assist” Frazier on a highly delicate and confidential matter involving Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), the chairman of the board of the bank. Frazier, naturally, doesn’t trust Madeliene any farther than he can throw her, but nonetheless allows her to think she’s in charge since she’s promised to help promote his career (but not without trying to extort some obedience from him first). As events unfold, Frazier realizes that this robbery is not at all what it appears to be.
For a man that has to do nearly all of his acting behind a mask, not unlike Hugo Weaving in “V for Vendetta,” Owen is unbelievably good. You see a man who’s both driven to see the job through to completion yet human enough to want to smack the father of the child hostage playing a hyper-violent video game on his PSP. (The ensuing game sequence is one of the movie’s funniest moments, though you’ll feel guilty for laughing later.) Washington, meanwhile, is completely free wheeling as Frazier. His serious but loose nature is infectious, and harkens back to work like his turn as Easy Rawlins in “Devil in a Blue Dress.” Jodie Foster, who used über-agent Pat Kingsley as her inspiration for the role of Madeliene (hint: she managed Tom Cruise for 14 years, and has balls of steel), oozes equal parts self-confidence and sleaze, even when her life is on the line, and is clearly having a ball doing so. Willem Dafoe offers solid support as Captain Darius, a set-in-his-ways cop who enters into a brief dick-swinging contest with Frazier, but Christopher Plummer is slowly veering into Christopher Lee territory by playing villain after villain. Granted, Lee has participated in two of the most profitable franchises of all time by doing so, but he’s still typecast as a villain for life to an entire generation.
I’m not sure if Spike Lee took this job against his will, since it doesn’t have any of the standard hallmarks of a Spike Lee Joint, but if he’s going to do a non-controversial, mainstream movie, this is the one to do. The script from Russell Gewirtz, who clearly worships at the altar of David Mamet, contains a strain of the racial politics that tend to bog some of Lee’s movies down, but peppers everyone’s dialogue with some witty rejoinders to go along with one mind-bending plot line, but the smartest thing it does is in name-checking “Dog Day Afternoon,” the mother of all hostage movies, just to make sure that the audience knows that the writer has seen that movie, too.
It’s unclear why Universal is being so stingy with the promotional campaign for “Inside Man,” since it is easily the best release from a major studio so far this year. They clearly were willing to splurge for A-list talent and a big budget heist thriller, so why not promote the damn thing? Don’t know, but after three months of movies like “When a Stranger Calls,” “The Pink Panther” and “Annapolis,” “Inside Man” is sweet relief, indeed, on more than one level.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
It may not look like much on the outside, but the Blu-ray release of "Inside Man" has plenty of goodies to offer on the inside, including 25 minutes of deleted scenes (a majority of which are devoted to never-before-seen suspect interviews), a 10-minute making-of featurette, and a short sitdown with Denzel Washington and Spike Lee discussing their past work experiences with one another (“Number 4”). Also featured is an excellent commentary where Lee reveals such interesting facts like that Jodie Foster has great legs and that, despite loving the orignal screenplay, he greatly encouraged improvisation as much as possible. This was great stuff when it originally appeared on the DVD, so it’s nice to see that Universal hasn’t excised any of it for the HD release.