Hallelujah! Spike Lee is back to his old tricks with Inside Man, his own quirky vision of a classic heist movie, complete with that certain Big Apple flair.
Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) tells us from the beginning to listen carefully cause he's only going to tell this story once. And he isn't kidding. You have to pay attention to Inside Man--blink and you might miss an important clue. Russell has concocted what he thinks is the perfect heist. It starts off with he and four others holding up a bank and taking everyone inside as hostages. NYPD hostage negotiators Detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are dispatched to the scene with orders to establish contact. But as things drag on and the robbers appear to consistently be one step ahead of the police, Frazier's suspicions grow when Madeline White (Jodie Foster), a power player with shadowy objectives, comes in to offer "assistance" in the matter. Seems her client, the chairman of the bank Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), is also personally interested in the moment-to-moment happenings inside the branch. Frazier is pretty convinced there's more to this than just a bank job gone awry. But how to make the puzzle pieces fit ?
Hardly anyone in Inside Man has to stretch much--and that's just fine. No one really has to since the parts are tailor made for them. Washington, a long-time Spike Lee favorite, fits right in as the streetwise cop, who doesn't necessarily play by the rules but gets the job done. He and Ejiofor (Four Brothers) have a nice, easy-going rapport as partners who've been together awhile. Owen plays another calm, collected, no-nonsense guy you empathize with, who can look straight into the camera and tells it as it is. You definitely want him to get away with it. Only Foster gets to veer a little from her usual intelligent heroines to play someone who is still smart but also very cunning--and a little mean-spirited. It looks like she had a lot of fun doing it, too, in her smart, three-piece suit and nasty pumps. In supporting roles, Willem Dafoe does a nice turn as the befuddled S.W.A.T. leader, while Plummer, as a banker with a shady past, sort of plays the antithesis to his goody too-shoes Captain Von Trapp in Sound of Music. He probably felt it was time.
Having taken a break since 2004's heavy-handed 25th Hour, it's clear Spike Lee wanted to have fun making Inside Man. In fact, I bet he watched Dog Day Afternoon, Marathon Man and a Ocean's Eleven in one evening and said, "Hey, I could make my own bank robbery-diamond/Nazi-heist movie." And so he did--with his signature stamp all over it. Crafting his film first-timer writer Russell Gewitz's script, Lee draws you right in with the seemingly confessional opener by our bank robber and then never lets go. Actually, he doesn't want it to end, but that's a minor blip. As Inside Man jumps around in time, you are definitely interested in trying to figure out the puzzle yourself, even if there are too many pieces. And of course, Lee has once again captured that New York state of mind. This is Spike's city--tough, racial and in your face. There are some hilarious scenes between the cops, trying to work this thing out, as well as between Frazier, Mitchell and the hostages afterwards, as they are being interrogated. Listen, these New Yorkers aren't about to take crap from a bunch of would-be bank robbers--or from the police.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.