I have been a fan of Clive Owen's for a while now; he was solid in King Arthur but his performance in Closer was what really sealed the deal and made me a fan. On the flipside, I have always been somewhat lukewarm to Denzel Washington. I get it – he is one of the best black actors of this generation – a real Sidney Poitier. But for some reason I have just never seen Washington in a role that has just floored me. He was good in Remember the Titans and I thought his portrayal of Malcom X was pretty spot on, but there is just something about him that feels – well – “cookie cutter” and unnatural. So you can imagine my mixed emotions when I went to see Inside Man in theaters, a film that not only stars these two actors but was directed by Spike Lee.
In this film Washington plays the cop and Owen plays the bank robber trying to rip off New York’s biggest bank, and they go rounds to see who can outwit the other. But the plot is a little thicker than what lies on the surface. Thrown into the mix are a myriad of other characters, all with their own agendas. This is where Spike Lee inserts an awesome supporting cast. Willem Dafoe plays Washington’s police captain, Christopher Plummer plays the bank chairman whose worries are less about the money that could be lost and more about his own personal “investment” that is in the bank somewhere, and Jodie Foster pops up as the know-it-all renaissance women who is hell bent on helping said bank chairman protect the afore mentioned investment.
But while the cast alone is enough to make this film interesting, it is not what creates such an intriguing and engaging experience. Spike Lee’s direction is nothing short of spectacular, creating a film that is as visually impressive as any action flick could be. The way he positions and moves the camera through this crime scene is unlike anything I have ever seen. More importantly, it gives the audience a grand insight into the inner workings of the police operation. Whereas most bank robbery films dramatize what is happening inside the bank, Lee’s film focuses on the world of confusion outside the yellow tape. It is easy to say that the film is a visual and audible treat, with some fine camerawork and a killer soundtrack, but it is the perspective that the director gives to his audience that makes this film one of the most daring environment driven I have seen in a long time; something that shines through loud and clear on the transfer to DVD.
A top-notch cast, a seasoned and visionary director, and a clever plot that keeps us guessing. What else could we really want in a cop drama, right? The answer is nothing. Inside Man is a clever, alluring film that twists and turns in all the right ways until it finally trots to a close. And while it does drag a little at the end, the story is fantastically paced otherwise. Owen and Washington’s dangerous cat-and-mouse game is fun to watch as it is wrapped up into a visual feast of a film that has very quickly become my favorite all time Spike Lee joint.
And then, once you get done with the film, there is more to see. This is a DVD review, remember? I have always said that it is easy to ruin a great film with a horrid DVD release, and thankfully it looks like Spike Lee understands that concept as well. The DVD is well fit with a few solid special features, including a unique look at the professional history of Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. On top of that, there is also 25 minutes of deleted scenes, a “Making of” feature and commentary by the director himself. All of this just seems to enhance what is already a film that should end up in your collection. Regardless of the special features, Inside Man is a DVD that you should not only see, but one that you should own.
The Upside: Lee’s film is a visual spectacle that is sharp and engaging.
The Downside: The film drags toward the end, but it is still worth seeing for the intense first three-quarters.
On the Side: According to an interview with Spike Lee, Ron Howard was first going to direct the film. But 'Russell Crowe' showed him Cinderella Man, and Howard went off to do that instead.