Friday, March 24, 2006

Inside Man - Movie Review

Inside Man 2006

The latest and possibly most commercial flick helmed to date by the talented Spike Lee features a trio of talented stars backed by equally distinguished character actors all bravely struggling to hold together an overblown television movie of the week bank heist scenario. We didn’t dislike “Inside Man”, but found it to be slightly bloated for so simple a plot and overlong by a good half hour. After having watched Bruce Willis shine in another police flick, “16 Blocks”, we were also sorely disappointed by the surprisingly lackluster lead turn by two time Oscar winner, Denzel Washington. Thankfully the film does have Spike at the lead, tossing out some very fine camerawork and setups and two very nice performances by our future husband Clive Owen and a magisterial supporting turn by two time Oscar winning Jodie Foster, who earns the online sobriquet hurled at her – she is truly a “magnificent cunt”.

The set-up is quite simple. A bank robbery in lower Manhattan is underway when Denzel Washington and the incredibly talented Chiwetel Ejiofor as two of New York’s finest detectives are called in for possible negotiations. Inside the bank, our future husband Clive Owen leads a tightly honed crew in alternately terrorizing the two dozen hostages and seemingly arranging to steal nothing. The president of the bank, portrayed with his usual gravitas by Christopher Plummer is alerted to the heist and begins to panic. Clearly something of great value is tucked away within its vault, and odds are good it isn’t just money. A quick call to a mysterious woman in cream and five inch heels, portrayed with aloof sliminess by Jodie Foster, threatens to aggrandize the flick into a political thriller. The bank president informs our mysterious "deep throat-ess" that yes indeed, there is a mysterious and priceless item locked away in one of the security deposit boxes and he desperately needs her help in ensuring its safety.

What follows is the slow, and we do mean slow unraveling of the heist. The film doesn’t crawl at a snail pace, Spike is too polished a pro to let that happen. But it does meander and slowly loses its way along its conventional bank heist genre groove. Several scenes serve only to underscore the wandering nature of the narrative. While we agree that today’s video games are mind numbingly violent, there was really no need for a fully animated sequence to hammer us over the head with. And while this film may be unique in mocking Albanians, we could have done without the five minute Albanian chain smoking whore in gold lame snippet.

Since the film is told thru a series of flashbacks, we know that all the major players will survive the finale – what is left is the how and why. And while the how is sometimes interesting, the why is nothing short of ignored. There is no particular reason for the subplot involving Christopher Plummer’s secret stash, except to help us speculate that he must have been around the age of twelve when it was first tucked away behind lock and key. Seriously people, World War II ended in 1945. Since a brief racial altercation between a Sikh bank employee and an anti-Arab cop help make it perfectly clear that the story is happening in the present – we simply don’t buy the alleged timeframe.

But this is a slight quibble when it comes to the overall success or failure of the film. It is made handsomely enough, with a real attempt at creative and visual storytelling. It just happens to rely on a weak script that could easily have been sharpened and shortened by a good forty pages. At a running time of two hours and ten minutes, we were beginning to feel we had been taken hostages ourselves. Although that might not have been a bad thing with Clive Owen pointing a large gun at us, forcing us to strip. Hmmmm. Excuse us. We got lost there for a minute. Where were we? Oh, yes.

Since the success of the film relies largely on the strengths of its lead players, Spike should be commended for his central casting. With the exception of Denzel Washington. While Denzel is certainly capable of good performances, and sometimes a great one or two – here he seems fairly catatonic, in lieu of appearing in control. It isn’t a horrible performance, merely a lazy one. Perhaps those untold millions he garners per picture lately have dulled his thespian skills. Or perhaps he needs to stop making police thriller after action flick after evil cop caper. (Best Actor Oscar or not, he should have won for “Malcolm X”.)

Thankfully we did enjoy the performances of Clive, Jodie, Chiwetel and the ever reliable Willem Dafoe who is wasted as a sometimes salty police captain straining to settle the nightmare for the hostages involved. And speaking of the hostages involved, this film is a veritable panorama of New York City caricatures. From the Jew who knows his jewels, to the Hispanic who of course has a previous police record - even the most peripheral characters seem destined for the cardboard cutout bin, Denzel's girlfriend and fellow police officer comes across as "Black Betty on a Hot Tin Roof". For a director known for tackling issues of racism, Spike does not seem above indulging in television clichés of stereotypes to flesh out an already weak scenario. Which is a real pity considering the talent involved.

And speaking of talent, this flick features a nice return to form by Jodie Foster as the mysterious Madeline White. Here is a seemingly all powerful creature that exists only in fiction, one of those well connected and mysterious individuals who creep around the political elite and who somehow always emerge victorious, over what we fail to understand. While there really is no rhyme or reason for her character to be involved in this story, she does exude the perfect blend of power, intelligence and hutzpah to pull off the role. Kudos to you, you old dyke! We almost forgive you for the horrid mess of “Airport ‘05”. (And nice calf muscles, bitch! You been hitting the stairmaster at Curves lately?)

While we would have appreciated the flick more if it had been tightened and honed as nicely as Jodie’s calves, we still enjoyed our time with the “Inside Man”. So what the hell, crack your wallets open and go. Bless you all!

Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Russell Gewirtz

Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier
Clive Owen as Dalton Russell
Jodie Foster as Madeline White
Christopher Plummer as Arthur Case
Willem Dafoe as Captain John Darius
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Detective Bill Mitchell
Peter Frechette as Peter Hammond

Film Editing by Barry Alexander Brown
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Costume Design by Donna Berwick
Original Music by Terence Blanchard
Production Design by Wynn Thomas
Art Direction by Chris Shriver
Set Decoration by George DeTitta Jr.


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