Saturday 1 November 2014

Movie Review: Inside Man (2006)

A multilayered bank heist drama, Inside Man is a slick thriller with an intricate plot, plenty of twists and a clutch of interesting characters.

Disguised as painters, a heavily armed gang led by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) take control of a bank in Manhattan. All customers and staff are held as hostages and forced to wear painters' overalls, making it difficult to differentiate between hostages and criminals. Police captain John Darius (Willem Dafoe) and his men secure the area and set up a command post, while detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrive to take control of the negotiations. Eventually Frazier establishes contact with Russell, who first demands food and then a plane, and threatens to kill one hostage per hour if there are any delays.

Respected businessman Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) owns the bank, and quickly contacts exclusive "fixer" Madeleine White (Jodie Foster) for help. Case wants Madeleine to secure the contents of his personal safety deposit box at the bank before it falls into the wrong hands. Madeleine uses her connections with the Mayor and forces Frazier to cooperate with her. With Russell seemingly in no rush to end the ordeal and always several steps ahead of any police action, Frazier begins to realize that this is not a typical bank robbery. A much bigger game is being played, and none of the normal rules apply.

Perhaps Spike Lee's most traditional outing as director, Inside Man is an excellent film about an exceptionally perfect bank robbery. This is glossy, star-propelled entertainment, mixing bursts of action with mounting tension and an unfolding creative mystery that reaches back to shady bank dealings during Europe's darkest hours.

Inside Man starts off with a chaotic Dog Day Afternoon vibe but quickly moves in a much more cerebral direction, Russell proving to be the antithesis of Sonny. Against the aggressive backdrop of a mass hostage taking by a seemingly brutal gang, the movie settles down to a triangular battle of wits and willpower between Russell, Frazier and White acting on behalf of Case.

Lee ever so gradually peels away the layers of the story to reveal the complex hidden agendas, dropping hints to the emerging puzzle by intercutting the action at the bank with frequent flash forwards, the frustrated detectives Frazier and Mitchell interrogating the mixed-up witnesses and suspects at the end of the ordeal. This is no ordinary robbery, and it's even difficult to separate the victims from the perpetrators. In the context of Case's history and Russell's real objectives, the blurring of the line between aggressor and casualty emerges as a central theme.

Despite the high intellectual content of Russell Gewirtz's script, Inside Man leaves a few key questions unanswered. The relationship between Russell and Case is never explained: how Russell came to know about Case's dark secret, and his motivation for exposing Case, remain unresolved mysteries. The gang members supporting Russell are also ill-defined, and never properly emerge as people from behind the painter overalls and face masks.

The sterling cast lends authority to all the key roles, with Washington and Owen perfectly cast as the detective under a cloud facing up to the criminal holding all the cards with attitude. Foster is appropriately frosty as a high powered puppet master, although the role of Madeleine White is perhaps the most forced aspect of the film.

The film starts with Dalton Russell talking to the camera inside a cell, in what proves to be an unusual confinement. It's the first clue that Inside Man has the inside track towards an astute enigma.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.