In the latest Spike Lee “joint,”
director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) teams up with Denzel Washington
(Malcolm X, Training Day) for a fourth
time in his first real attempt to look for box-office success. In it, Denzel plays Detective Keith Frazier, a detective who
gets the call when a bank robber named Dalton Russell, played by Clive Owen (Sin City, Closer),
holds a large number of people hostage in a bank. Detective Frazier isn’t the number one guy, however he is the number
one guy not on vacation, so he is sent in to try and deal with the problem; however, it won’t be easy, because Dalton
Russell has planned the “perfect” bank robbery (which for some unknown reason he explains directly into the camera).
The bank is one in a franchise that belongs to Arthur Case, played by Christopher Plummer (The Thorn Birds, Our Fathers), and in this bank there happens to be
a deep dark secret in relation to the Nazis that hasn’t been touched since the late 1940s (something that Plummer, who
was in his mid-teens at the time, doesn’t look nearly old enough to do). In order to make sure his secret stays in the
dark, Case sends in Madeline White, played by Jodie Foster (The Accused, Silence of
the Lambs), who is a power broker of some kind, but was never really fully explained during the movie’s over two
hour runtime. It is Inside Man’s over-ambitious attitude and inability to
fully develop anything that leads to an above average bulk ending disappointingly.
Spike Lee, who has become well known for many
low-budget, indie films, is attempting his first real endeavor into the money-making world of film, however he ends up with
pretty poor results. Spike Lee often resorts to dizzily panning across the room and odd camera tricks like one time having
Denzel being rolled on a cart rather than walking (which is more creepy, less cool). Additionally, Spike Lee as a director
shows a lack of good judgment, as he guides a cast of “players” that have combined for twelve Oscar nominations
(fourteen including Lee) to very awkward performances. Washington and Foster in particular (though Owen and Willem Dafoe are
both victims as well) cannot seem to decide to play their characters with an obnoxious, arrogant swagger or a nervous cautiousness
as to what the ramifications of their actions could be. This indecision on the parts of both the director and actors leads
to confusion on the part of the viewer as all the characters seem to switch erratically between confidence and insecurity.
And while confusion is a necessity in most heist films, it only works if there is a resulting payoff at the end, which there
is not. The criticism of Mr. Lee is not to say he is talent-less, because he is not. After all, he did have to work with a
script that has plenty of flaws. The point of the criticism is simply to say that there may be a reason that a director as
well-known and respected as Spike Lee has two Oscar nominations but neither is for his direction.
Performances aside, the problems with Inside Man lie deeper, as screenwriter Russell Gerwitz, in his first feature film cannot draw the wide range of
story elements to a satisfying conclusion. What Gerwitz does well is create a fairly captivating, exciting bank heist, with
some very smart techniques. However he does very little beyond that. First, for an unexplained, unnecessary reason, the film
starts with Owen’s character talking directly into the camera trying to deceive the viewer when it is not needed since
the robbery is done well enough. Secondly, the robbers enter the bank in a very suspicious way, wearing painter suits and
masks (but not carrying paint). They do so in a way that would make any Joe Schmo suspicious (except apparently the large
group of people in the bank including two security guards). Third, Gerwitz introduces the whole dark secret element which
is explained very poorly, and with it comes the Nazi angle which might have worked
twenty or so years ago, just not now. And finally, before this list drags on too long, the ending comes far too late and is
far too little. In fact, the bank robbery is over thirty minutes or so before the film is and the ending drags unbelievably
long, trying to conclude all elements but instead simply adding to the confusion brought on from the rest of the film. Worst
of all it uses the extremely overused, extremely cliché hidden tape recorder trick…despicable. If Gerwitz just left
the focus on the bank robbery itself and made the ending quick, simple, and swift, Inside
Man would have been a much better film.
Disappointments from writer, director, and cast
make Inside Man an overall disappointment. From the trailer that gives away too
much, to the ending that doesn’t give away enough, Inside Man looks worse
and worse upon further dissecting it. The movie finally gave Spike Lee his first #1 at the box-office, but along with films
like Failure to Launch, and V for Vendetta,
will be unable to spike the box-office and become the first film of 2006 to earn $100 million domestically, a feat which Ice Age finally accomplished. At the end of it all, Inside Man disappoints its way to 5.5 out of 10.