Mon, May 20 2013
Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer
Directed by: Spike Lee
If somebody thought the day when Spike Lee directed a big studio picture would never come, that somebody was wrong. That day is today and while Spike Lee has always been anything but a genre director, Inside Man, his new film, is a bank-heist-hostage-thriller-with-a-twist that will perfectly fit the multiplex bill and comfortably make the box office Universal Pictures budgeted. Although this is probably Lee's least personal effort, it is still a peculiarly intriguing addition to his portfolio as it explores avenues above and beyond the heist plot. As such the film is representative of Lee's loving yet inquisitive fascination with New York and is an interesting study of the post 9/11 ethnic stereotyping of this most dynamic of melting pots. The problem is that this added value of sorts upstages the film's thriller credentials. Although the film functions adequately as such, Lee's heart is evidently somewhere else.
Clive Owen stars as Dalton Russell, a confident criminal mastermind who executes his own perfect bank robbery in the middle of Wall Street. He and his gang walk into the targeted institution, intimidate the clerks and customers into submission, dress them in identical outfits, and, bizarrely, throw gas grenades as if to alert the police to their presence inside. The stacks of cash are there for the taking, but their agenda seems to be much more complicated. Why? That is kept a secret for as long as possible, but, when we are finally in on the plan, we are alarmingly unsure as to whether it was worth the wait - but I am getting ahead of myself.
A cop is swiftly assigned to handle the situation. His name is Detective Keith Frazier and he is played by Denzel Washington (with a thin moustache and a shaven head) as a man who balances professional pride with a resentment that he was meant for bigger and better things. That resentment gains a new dimension as Frazier is starting to ask a lot of questions he finds no answers to. The criminal opposite him is very smart, but what exactly does he want? How could the bank director Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) have been old enough to be a key player during World War 2 and still be in a state that allows him to occupy the position he does now? The plot is as keen to avoid these issues as is the said bank director, who enlists an expert problem solver to monitor the content of his personal safety deposit box. The latter is one Miss White, who projects the confidence of a person who always knows and sees more than the people around her. She is played by Jodie Foster as someone who keeps secrets from the rest of the film, which annoyingly remain as such beyond the end credits. Her presence is never truly justified and she remains an unsatisfying mystery, as does the film's ultimate payoff.
The ample redeeming features of the film come in the form of the colourful and unruly New-Yorker crowd inside the bank. They come across as a knowing portrayal of the Big Apple's and, by extension, America's, ethnic microcosm caught in the crossfire of prejudice and political correctness. "What the fk! Give me my turban!" says a Sikh who is agitated at being accused of being an Arab, while an episode about a boy and his decidedly racist video game is a completed argument in itself. This is all fine and admirable, and it overrides to a great extent the displeasure at the stale denouement, but as the credits roll, one nevertheless feels the script could have used a good rewrite.
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