Inside Man is a caper movie – the ‘perfect’ crime, a battle of wits between criminals and police, and surprising plot twists. But with Spike Lee directing, it is anything but a straightforward caper movie. In the hands of another director the movie might have remained standard action fare, but Lee is interested in dialogue, character and the small details.
The movie opens with the criminal mastermind, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), addressing the camera from within what we believe is a prison cell. He tells us that he has committed the perfect crime. We then flashback to the crime itself, following Dalton’s group as they hold up the bank, take hostages, and put their plan into operation.
Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and partner, Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are the detectives assigned to oversee negotiations with the criminals, along with uniformed police captain, Darius (Willem Dafoe). As the negotiations progress they learn that things are not as they seem.
Enter bank boss, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), who has something in the bank he wants to remain secret, and Madeline White (Jodie Foster), the power-broker he hires to protect his interests. We soon learn that Russell is no simple bank robber, and that there is more at stake than a pile of cash.
To reveal much more would spoil the fun, suffice to say that you will probably leave the movie scratching your head and wondering why and how certain things happened. It’s that kind of movie. I would have liked a bit more information about Russell’s background and motivation, while Madeline White’s role is hazy at best.
Clive Owen is well cast as the cool, arrogant criminal, and Washington cruises in his role as the imperfect police detective, but Dafoe is wasted, and Jodie Foster’s role is surprisingly undemanding.
There are sprinklings of Spike Lee’s humour and politics – a racially charged conversation between Frazier and a street cop, the Sikh accused of being an Arab terrorist, the glimpse of Grand Theft Auto style videogame violence. And you can’t help but wonder if the treatment of the hostages by the police is a comment on post-911 America.
There are also a few clichéd moments – the banter between Frazier and Russell, the final confrontation between the cops and the bank chief. And the undercooked romantic scenes between Frazier and his lover add nothing (apart from some very corny references to ‘Big Willy and the twins’).
Inside Man will probably not be remembered as a great Spike Lee movie, but it is an engrossing and entertaining take on the genre that will keep you involved until the final credits.