Even from that aperture voice-over, we’re in. Russell’s intensity, and tranquility commands the audience’s attention, and though it doesn’t vocally proclaim it – so does the rest of the film
Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe
As our film opens, bankrobbin’ Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) instructs us to listen closely:
Even from that aperture voice-over, we’re in. Russell’s intensity, and tranquility commands the audience’s attention, and though it doesn’t vocally proclaim it – so does the rest of the film.
“The Inside Man” is an entertaining, visceral thrill ride that revives the heist genre popularized in the 1970s – modernized, but not to the extent where it’s littered with violence.
Who’s our director? Spike Lee. Yep, the guy that gave us such ‘Joints’ as “Do the Right Thing”, “Jungle Fever” and “Malcom X”. Even the shortest synopses will directly tip-you off to the fact that he’s swimming in dissimilar waters here : the abovesaid Russell (Clive ‘Who needs Bond?’ Owen) and company coolly walk into a crowded Wall Street bank and expertly dismantle the security cameras – literally, in a flash. Their proclamation that ‘this is a robbery’ is probably the last typical action these modern day Robin Hood’s will take.
Our inciter has clearly has put a lot of thought into this robbery, and from the outset, it looks like he’ll even pull it off. But Denzel Washington’s name at the top of the marquee isn’t there just for B.O pulling power – it’s evident his character is going to be the spanner in the plan.
Washington’s Detective Keith Frazier is a man with more troubles than an impeached President. His girlfriend is giving him a case of the sweats, and the department has become suspicious that he may have snagged some evidence room cash to buy her a wedding ring, so when an opportunity arises to play hero and regain some respect: he jumps at the chance. Not that this hostage situation is going to any walk in the park.
Where Spike Lee’s films are usually concerned with the racial difficulties of America, and have always been pretty much headlined by African American actors, “Inside Man” isn’t. Sure, there’s some messages in there – it wouldn’t a Lee film otherwise, would it? – but for the most part, this is as commercial as Lee has got. And it’s a refreshing change.
Another bonus for the audience, in addition to a born-again Lee, is the appealing cast.
In addition to Owen and Washington, Jodie Foster steps up to the plate to play a rare supporting role, and typically near walks away with the picture. Foster’s Madeline White, also assigned to thwart the robbery, clearly has veins filled with ice, and boy can she work a pair of pumps! – And boy is she entertaining to watch.
Rounding out the cast are Willem Dafoe, as the Emergency Services Unit Captain who clashes with Frazier, James Ransone (“The Wire”) as Stevie-O, one of the hostages interviewed by Det. Frazier, and rising star Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Kinky Boots”), fantastic as Frazier’s partner.
Sccreenwriter Russell Gewirtz’s script might be the real star here though. He has penned something clever, humorous, tense and terrific – and never forgets about his audience. In retrospect, the cat-and-mouse game that Washington and Foster’s characters play in the movie wouldn’t have worked as well had they been working from sloppy material.
Some will no doubt scream ‘Sell Out’ at Lee – when he’s next courtside, probably – for making such a commercial film in “Inside Man”, but admittedly, they won’t have seen the film – otherwise the picketers would know it’s anything but.
Reviewer : Ruth Ferguson