3.26.2006

REVIEW: Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)

"My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself." This is how Inside Man, Spike Lee's new film and most mainstream effort to date, begins with Clive Owen staring point-blank into the camera - similar in fashion to The Libertine's opening, but executed here with a bit of extra forty-acre flare. Those first lines are fair warning, because as the 129-minute film carries on you'll absolutely have to abide by them to fully appreciate the intricately woven heist plot.

Much of the critical reception for this film has been excellent and loaded with praise of Lee's upheaval of the genre by delivering originality in spades. The praise is dead on - no matter how many times you've watched Dog Day Afternoon or how many episodes of CSI you've TiVoed, this will be a brand new experience that will keep you intelligently guessing until the end. Along with the fresh plot layout and character development, Lee also brings suspense through subtlety. The first person to notice something amiss at the bank in question is a dopey cop who calls in the situation and investigates further, only to find himself on the business end of a handgun, being warned that if anyone comes near the front door they'll be shot. Soon afterward we see an arrival sequence in which four cop cars, an armored vehicle and several sniper squads barge into the street, nearly breaking the proximity rule. The subtle effect Lee adds is a shot from inside the bank, giving us the robbers' view of the situation and elevating the tension to new levels. I'm sure there are several more of these brilliant directorial decisions throughout the entire piece, but I wouldn't have consciously picked up on them due to the unfamiliar atmosphere generated by the film and its progressive developments that kept my mind at work.

Some of the choices made by the filmmakers do seem out of place or innefective, such as the overrused slow-pan close-up intended to generate false suspense. Lee's signature actor-on-a-platform-attached-to-the-camera shots (which I would refer to more briefly were I able to recall their proper name) are also present and occasionally awkward in this context. I'm merely noting these as things that could have been better, though. They are barely worthy of being called blemishes.

Christopher Plummer has been showing up more and more lately in films like Alexander and The New World and his presence is more than welcome as his small yet pivotal performances are always excellent, and he shows through with another well nuanced character here. Also featured is Willem Dafoe in a non-controversial role that wouldn't have been nearly as cool if it weren't Dafoe in its shoes. The three major players, Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster deliver as expected. I've never been a fan of Washington's natural cool, but he was working for me as the new detective, probably best described as a knight in tainted armor. Owen gives me another reason to like him while Foster finally proves that I have reason to like her. The remainder of the cast does its job well, considering more major roles from those of Kim Director and Chiwetel Ejiofor to the minor ones of the hostages.

Something I really liked a lot about Inside Man was actually the end credits. They were laid out in a manner that was fair and all-encompassing, showing Spike Lee's director credit not on an individual card but instead on a list among the other important filmmakers involved. Even the intern program and orchestra were credited, something I haven't seen (or noticed, at least) in the past. The song playing during the credits, Chaiyya Chaiyya, is also super cool.

Inside Man isn't something that requires a big screen, but I definitely recommend checking it out eventually. It's solid as a rock and there's sure to be at least something you'll enjoy.

I noticed at the end of the film that the man in Denzel's apartment is holding a bottle of Da Bomb, a drink introduced in Lee's 2001 masterpiece, Bamboozled. It's Da Bomb baby, Bomb - It makes you get your freak on! I didn't see, however, the other Bamboozled product - Timmi Hillnigger clothing. That's not to say it wasn't there!

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