Denzel Washington and Five Other Well-Known Actors
Denzel Washington is one of my favorite stars, and his performance in Inside Man (2006) doesn't disappoint. He is joined by a first-rate cast that includes Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor. To some extent, the strong performances make up for the movie's weaknesses.
A Mainstream Film Directed by Spike Lee
Inside Man is an intricately plotted heist movie. I've seen it billed as an action-packed thriller, but that description fails to properly set viewers' expectationsit's really more of an offbeat crime drama.
The movie is directed by Spike Lee, and it's much more in the mainstream than any of his other films that I've seen. Nevertheless, he sprinkles Inside Man with his trademark humor, racial observations and location shooting in New York City. The result is a reasonably entertaining movie that lacks the depth of Lee's best films.
Cops and Robbers and a Secret
The central character in Inside Man is NYPD detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington). He is a key member of a small army of responders to an incident in lower Manhattan: four criminals dressed as painters have gone into a bank and taken about 50 people hostage. The crooks are led by mastermind Dalton Russell (Clive Owen).
When the bank's board chairman (Christopher Plummer) learns of the hostage crisis, he retains the services of a mysterious woman (Jodie Foster) who uses her connections to discreetly get wealthy clients out of trouble. The chairman hires her to help him protect a secret, and she is able to bring the full power of the mayor's office to bear on his problem.
Inside Man follows Detective Frazier as he deals with the heist and the issues surrounding the chairman's secret. There are a number of twists and turns, but the tale eventually wends its way to a happy ending.
Those Spike Lee Touches
The complicated plot of Inside Man isn't quite involving enough to justify the running time of over two hours; the movie could have easily been 15 or 20 minutes shorter. However, there were many Spike Lee touches that made the film worth watching. Here are some examples:
A Sikh complains that his civil rights are continually violated in post-9/11 New York, and Detective Frazier responds, "I bet you can get a cab, though." But the Sikh replies gracefully, "I guess that's one of the perks."
When pizzas are delivered to feed the hostages, the name Sal is printed on the boxes. Did the Brooklyn pizzeria that burned down in Do the Right Thing reopen later in lower Manhattan?
One of the hostages is an eight-year-old African-American boy who plays a video game. The kid explains, "You get points for doing dirt, like jacking a car or selling crack. And you lose points if someone jacks your ride or shoots you." This sequence is presented in a way that makes it clear Lee finds this vile.
Lee is a genius at capturing the look and feel of New York, something that seems to be difficult to do when filming in, say, Toronto. Locations I found particularly appealing in Inside Man include Wall Street, Battery Park and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Fascinating Audio Commentary by Spike Lee
The DVD provides a feature-length commentary for Inside Man by director Spike Lee, and I actually enjoyed that more than the movie itself. He recorded his commentary shortly after finishing the film, and he supplies a wealth of detail. He states that two of the hostages in his movie are played by actors who portrayed hostages in Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Also, Lee says that New York cabbies still often drive right past him when he hails them. He mentions that the interrogation scenes in Inside Man are improvised. And he claims that Europeans have asked him if Christopher Plummer's character was based on Prescott Bush, the grandfather of George W. Bush.
Additional Bonus Materials
The most interesting to me of the other DVD extras was the 10-minute conversation between Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. It's titled "Number 4" because Inside Man marked the fourth time Washington played the lead in a film directed by Lee, the first three being Mo' Better Blues (1990), Malcolm X (1992) and He Got Game (1998). They have an interesting perspective on blacks and the American film industry over the last several years. Washington says he hopes to model his career after Clint Eastwood's.
Also on the DVD are 25 minutes of deleted scenes, about 17 minutes of which consists of interrogation scenes. Finally, there's an above-average making-of featurette, in which Spike Lee is seen wearing a snazzy cap bearing the message "Defend Brooklyn."
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