Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Inside Man

Spike Lee’s latest effort is Inside Man, a curious look at the old bank robber chestnut. There are enough clues to keep the viewer engrossed in a bank robbery-that-isn’t.

We first see Clive Owen in a close-up, explaining to us that he’s going to pull off the perfect crime. He’s arrogant, that much is for sure, and he’s speaking in the past tense, meaning he survives this crime and must’ve done well. This intrigues us in the very beginning. It’s a good thing we see Clive in this early scene, because his face is covered for most of the film.

We then see the takeover of the bank during normal business hours, with all the customers and bank employees hitting the floor. We see a methodical crew, all named some variation of “Steve,” go about their business separating everyone from their cell phones and from each other. We see some curious things happening in the dark corners of these bank offices, things involving switches of costume, exchanges of criminals for victims, clues for use later.

Then we’re introduced to Detective Keith Frazier, played by Denzel Washington in expert manner. Frazier is a good detective, knows the book but doesn’t always follow it, especially in cases where things don’t add up. And things don’t add up here. We watch him put two-and-two together, often making mistakes, and we’re riding right along with him. Frazier has had his problems with authority, is and has been under investigation for a couple of things that didn’t play out well in his job, and knows with certain reality he won’t be making 1st grade detective any time soon. He also knows he won’t be moving into that larger apartment with his girlfriend, who insists on bringing her no-account drunken brother with her in the deal, because of money problems.

And while we’re trying to figure out why Clive Owen’s character is stalling on the bank robbery, a fact that’s obvious to Frazier and really obvious to us, in walks Jodie Foster as a power broker of sorts. It’s a small role in terms of minutes but a big role in terms of style and panache. This is a maturing Jodie Foster who is different from any we’ve ever seen before – smartly dressed in three-inch heels with a lot of leg to show, serious with the hair pulled back, and absolutely assured in her power. However, her role in this film seems a bit superfluous, but it’s fun while it lasts.

This is a fun twist on an old theme, and the clues given to us throughout the film make it a pleasurable romp. There are a few things – quite a few things – that don’t really add up, such as Jodie Foster’s payment from venerable Christopher Plummer (in another exquisitely crafted role) – that don’t make sense. And there are other external things about the movie that further confuse, all of Spike Lee’s making, such as scenes inserted that don’t belong in the present chronology, clues that don’t quite add up at the end, how a detective with money problems ends up in these Vanity Fair outfits, etc.

But this is a film that works for the most part, and it’s great fun. Thumb’s up.


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