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Inside Man

Posted on the 19 September 2014 by Christopher Saunders
Inside ManInside Man (2006) is as safe and commercial a film as Spike Lee ever made. It's a conventional heist film, with some last act revelations that aren't entirely convincing.
Four armed robbers storm a Manhattan bank, taking dozens of hostages. Detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are assigned to negotiate, but lead criminal Dalton (Clive Owen) won't give them much room. After a day of head-games and unclear demands, Frazier suspects something fishy. His suspicions are confirmed when Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), a well-connected fixer, arrives with a brief from bank owner Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) to extract an incriminating safe deposit box.
Inside Man is straightforward stuff; Lee's few auteur touches (parallel long shots of Dalton and Case in a room, nonlinear interrogation scenes) blend into a rather banal narrative. He can't help interjecting some social commentary: NYPD officers casually drop racial epithets and manhandle a Sikh hostage (Waris Ahluwalia), while a child hostage (Amir Ali Said) plays a Grand Theft Auto-style video game. But Lee mostly sticks to familiar genre beats, efficiently handled but wholly familiar.
At least Inside Man makes this familiarity part of the plot. Frazier suspects the very familiarity, noting that Dalton steals his getaway scheme from Dog Day Afternoon! Writer Russell Gewirtz handles the small touches best: Dalton befuddling the cops with an Enver Hoxha recording, or Frazier bluffing Dalton into entering the bank. He's less successful weaving the heist with Case's back story, an anemic attempt to up the ante. Man sweeps the narrative board in the last half-hour: while the solution's satisfying on its own terms, simultaneously it's unconvincing.
Denzel Washington plays to type, charming but tough, here given a cynical edge Conversely, Willem Dafoe does well against type as a gruff cop; amoral, brassy Jodie Foster almost steals the show. Chiwetel Ejiofor makes a nice match for Washington. But Clive Owen is an expressionless drone, neither intimidating villain nor convincing character. And Christopher Plummer is wasted playing a shallow cartoon. Other players are lucky to be obnoxious stereotypes.
Ultimately, you won't regret the two hours you'll invest watching Inside Man. Slickly directed and mostly well-acted, it's a decent time-waster - yet ultimately proves underwhelming.

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