Whew. Glad I got that out of the way! Now I can start gushing. This Spike Lee Joint they call Inside Man is a first rate, thrilling caper, far deeper than the heist flick the trailers predicted it would be. It's a universally well-acted quite well written tale of a massive bank robbery gone horribly right, with enough hooks in the water to hint that this might be something a little bit more than just a "Stick-Em-Up"! In this respect I was reminded of a film called Swordfish a few times. The difference between these two being that Inside Man doesn't suck pig teat.
Before I go on, I'd like to point out that while Swordfish did feature a topless scene that couldn't be beat from one Halle Berry, Inside Man, though nudity free, does have a little somethin' somethin' that goes beyond the obvious great cast, superbly planned out writing, and the well-honed directorial craft of Mr. Spike Lee. That being the acting of one Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is as different from his "Operative" character from Serenity as I am different from the head of the GOP.
Clive Owen's master thief Dalton Russell looks us right in the eye and tells us the who, the what, the when, the why and the where of what he has planned to do, that being the greatest bank robbery in history. It's the "HOW" that is kept a mystery, and indeed, at least half of the what and why remains obscured by story, keeping the audience fascinated throughout.
Still, the Thief's tale is only one small piece of a loaded chessboard, Lee oversees. When Russell and his crew take over the bank and dress their hostages exactly like them (just as V for Vendetta did last week), a down on his luck detective named Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and his proficient partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are assigned to head up the swat and negotiations. And that's whether hard-nosed Captain Darius of the SWAT team (Willem Dafoe) likes it or not.
However, things really kick into high gear when the wealthy owner of this and nearly every other New York bank (Christopher Plummer's Mister Case) hires problem solver Madeliene White (Jodie Foster) to represent him in this situation. You see the case with Case is that he's got a safe deposit box at that very bank and it's filled with something more secretive than what's hiding in Marcellus Wallace's stolen brief case. It's not likely that Clive will break it open, but, you know, Case hires White just in case.
Where the film heads is anyone's guess, but I can tell you for damned sure that it's not at all predictable. It's a credit to Spike Lee's already diverse resume that he can keep this many items floating in the air, while still seeming reasonable. I kept expecting the whole shebang to collapse under its own weight, but it never did. The ending does plod on for a while with expository truth after expository truth, linking everything together (and giving a few "Well, I'll be damned"-style flashbacks for the thinking-impaired in the audience). However, even this never feels all that cheap or gratuitous. It might not be quite as believable as, say an episode of PBS' Nova, but it's not nearly as far fetched as an episode of Fox News' The Oh Really? Factor either.
It takes a lot for a main stream flick to impress me lately (at least one without skinny dipping or zombies in it), but Spike Lee's excellent Inside Man does the deed quite nicely almost entirely without gratuities. This is Russell Gewirtz' first (and as of this writing ONLY) Screenplay Credit, but that doesn't show in the overall well-constructed story. There is a feeling that a lesser director might have fouled this film up beyond repair and the few flaws in this gem might have overpowered the good stuff. Luckily we didn't get a second rate director, we got Spike Lee, who succeeded in making this a first rate film.
Yes, the directing is fantastic, the script is solid and well-laced together and the acting is top notch! All hail the return of Darryl "Chill" Mitchell to the screen, who, along with Yaffit Hallely, Kim Director, Carlos AndrÚs Gˇmez and James Ransone offers a small, yet noteworthy performance! Four and One Half Stars out of Five for Inside Man (a title character you won't discover until near the very end). It's surprising to see a Hollywood Caper film work this well, but with the right ingredients, this one rises to the occasion quite well. Last year, Woody Allen made a thriller against type. This year Spike Lee made a thriller against type. What's next, is Albert Brooks going to direct a movie version of Babylon 5? Not that I'm complaining, both Match Point and Inside Man were excellent, but I'm not sure I can picture Albert Brooks giving us something like Looking for Comedy in the Minbari World! Eh, who knows? I'll be looking for more weird ideas as the basis of MY comedy in the next reel.
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