Along with my very late-blooming love for the cinema and my gravitation towards genre films, there are some filmmakers whose films I have never seen. One of those filmmakers is Spike Lee. When I saw Inside Man back in 2006 on the big screen I was finally able to say that I had seen a Spike Lee film. To this date, it remains the only one I have seen. I know, I know, that means there are a lot of quality movies that I have yet to see, a fact I hope to one day rectify. In any case, the heist film has arrived on Blu-ray and marks the first time I have seen the film since its big screen bow.
Inside Man begins like many heist films that have come before it. The robbers, led by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and dressed in matching painter outfits, enter the bank and neutralize the cameras, then go about dealing with whimpering hostages, jumping over the counters, along with giving plenty of barked orders. They immediately go about establishing the seriousness of the situation.
Meanwhile, the police learn of what is going on down at the bank and send hostage negotiator Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and his partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to work the scene. They arrive and immediately go about securing the scene.
What follows is a carefully constructed cat and mouse game between Dalton and Frazier. This game they play combined with the way they go about their business goes a long way toward revealing the intelligence with which the screenplay was written. Both of these characters know how the game is played and they know exactly what they need to do in order to get to their desired ends.
Where the story loses a little bit of its hold is with the introduction of Madeleine White (Jodie Foster). She is some sort of high priced "fixer" brought in by the bank's chairman of the board, played by Christopher Plummer, to insure the safety of a particular safety deposit box. Frankly, this part of the story has a bearing on the big picture, but I did not really care. It felt concocted to give Foster something to do. The funny thing is, while she feels inconsequential, she is so dramatic in doing it.
What is so fascinating about Inside Man is that as intelligent as the script is, it does not pay off very well. Once the climax arrived, I must admit to feeling a little let down. For all of the tension that is built up over the two-hour movie, I could not muster up enough reason to care. Fortunately, it's so entertaining it is still a movie worth watching.
The performances are first rate. Denzel Washington is playing a role he could do in his sleep with both hands tied behind his back. He brings an intensity with a touch of moral ambiguity, just to keep you guessing. Meanwhile, Clive Owen is always in control, always knows how to control the situation. He is calm, cool, and collected at every moment. These two own the film. Where lesser actors could have made this a chore, these two keep you glued to the screen every moment.
This is, by far, Spike Lee's most mainstream film, further evidenced by its box office take ($88 million). Still, while this targeted the mainstream audience, it still has plenty of style. Besides what Washington and Owen bring to the table, Lee brings a great visual style that helps liven up the feature. There are crane and dolly shots galore, helping make this your atypical blockbuster, putting a stamp on it. On top of that, there are a number of scenes involving life in New York and race relations that have Spike's fingerprints all over them. He brings a lot of flavor to the story, making the movie better in the end.
Audio/Video. The image retains its original 2.35:1 ratio of the theatrical presentation (have any Blu-rays presented a modified ratio?). The color palette looks as I remember from the theater, not terribly bright, but not washed out either. There is a very realistic feel to the way it looks. The high definition format brings a lot of detail to the frame, all helping bring life to the bank set and the streets of NYC immediately around the building.