You can say this for Spike Lee’s Inside Man – it’s got one of the best casts in many a moon. You’ve got Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer.
Toss them all together in a slick spin on the well-worn “heist” genre, and you’ve got Inside Man, Spike Lee’s most mainstream entertainment yet. It’s propulsive and smart.
We open with a bank robbery at a glitzy Manhattan institution. Dalton Russell (Owen) launches a tightly planned operation of hostage-taking aimed at getting inside the bank’s vaults. The police arrive, led by hostage negotiator Det. Keith Frazier (Washington).
But all is not as it seems, and a smooth power broker (Jodie Foster) with the mayor’s backing gets involved in the delicate situation. Frazier soon learns this is anything but an ordinary bank robbery, as a tense game unfolds between him and Russell.
It’s a tense puzzle of a movie, with top-notch performances and directing. It’s just that it gets a little hard to follow and a little too interested in the games it’s playing to be a truly great film.
Lee jumps around in time, flashing forward in several sequences, and it can be a little disorientating. Unfortunately, the movie’s central mystery is extremely obvious.
Lee adds a nice sociological undertone to the bank-robbing action, tossing in some thought-provoking asides about race and the constant mixes and clashes of culture that drive a city like New York.
Inside Man is also glamorously shot with the “I love New York” cinematography of Matthew Litabique. A bold, brassy score by Terance Blanchard may be a bit over-the-top, but it helps give Inside Man an epic sweep.
Inside Man is made of pleasing little moments, like the nuances Owen brings to a stock-criminal mastermind character, or Washington’s cocky good humor as a well-dressed cop who bluffs constantly to hide what he doesn’t know. Foster’s also positively on fire in her few scenes as a woman accustomed to getting what she wants.
While it stops short of perfection, Lee shows there’s life in the very well-traveled bank robbery genre. Inside Man steals your attention and rarely gives it back.