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Old 23rd Dec 2007, 22:55   #1
Noumenon
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Default Inside Man

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Four armed figures dressed in hooded overalls and face masks take control of a flagship bank and, taking as many as fifty hostages in the process, go to work according to a very specific, methodical plan. "The perfect bank robbery", claims their ringleader, from captivity - but being in a cell and being incarcerated are two very different things.

The bank's philanthropic owner is eager to offer the police any assistance his fabulous wealth can supply, but his true motives are less than clear. He turns to a sweetly ruthless troubleshooter with high connections in global business and politics, entrusting her to protect the one chink in his armour - a weakness which lies within the taken vault and could undo the work of sixty years.

Out-of-favour Hostage Negotiation Detective Frazier is delighted to have the case land in his lap, but is frustrated from then on in. The bad guys are not making demands and not reacting to the usual ploys; the police's tactical commander is losing patience with their lack of progress, but when the hostage takers do start talking things start going from bad to worse. If his already damaged career is going to survive this encounter Frazier is going to have to do something out of the ordinary - just like the opposition...
Inside Man is notable for only one reason at first glance: this appears to be a mainstream piece of Hollywood entertainment - but one directed by Spike Lee. Even stranger is that, unlike in the narrative, the appearences are not deceptive: a mainstream "Spike Lee Joint" exactly what this is.

Starring two A Listers (Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster) and featuring a couple of A- Listers (Willem Defoe and Clive Owen) with one rising talent and an old war horse in support (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Christopher Plummer respectively), this boasts a rather tasty cast and in Lee a distinctive director not really known for selling out to the multiplex-popcorn industry. What results, for me, is a growing desire that the world's more ideosyncratic directors would get involved with this kind of work more often because, without being a masterpiece by any means, Inside Man stands comfortably out from the usual crowd of crime thrillers for a number of reasons.

Although the gang are ultimately cyphers about whom we learn little, the external forces arrayed against them present us with a surprising variety of characters, both straightforward and unusual. Where they are straightforward they also have characterful depth and a real sense of normality, worrying about their lives, snatching glances at nice boobs, laughing too hard at bad jokes; where they are unusual we have characters simultaneously mysterious and despicable, yet also humanly recognisible and even at times sympathetic.

The action alternates between the central drama and aftermath interviews with former hostages, which quickly begin to imply that there has been more going on than we have yet witnessed. There is plenty of oportunity to ponder over the possibilities, and if the eventual reveal of the robbery's key secret is hardly revolutionary it does lead to a nicely rounded narrative... but even after the foreground story is done there is more to come.

The strong, simple performances by the leads are contrasted nicely with more deliberately colourful moments courtsey of the hostages and other incidental civilian encounters, giving the presented world a great deal of life. Basically, what you have is the same old thing that we get every year, except it just feels like a bit more. It would be unfair to single out Lee as the sole off-screen reason for IM working - the script isn't flashy but is effective, even tipping its hat to the most obvious and illustrious genre forbearer Dog Day Afternoon without forcing an unflattering comparison.

So what didn't I like? Well, there's ol' Clive Owen in it, isn't there. I called him an "A- Lister" up at the top and I think I'm being over kind, because in spite of Children Of Men I'm still only a reluctant fan and the chances are I'm going to find him a weak link in whatever he stars in. This time he is... okay, in the way that a cheap cheddar can still make it onto the cheese board, but surrounded by blue-veined delights and fruity numbers it might have to wait a long time before someone eats it. Personally, I'd have been happy for him to hide behind his mask and make him a novelty participant rather than a key face, because I just don't think he has what it takes to play with the big boys and girls. Maybe the local boys and girls disagree. But he's okay.

Other than that, I can't fault too deeply what is an entertaining diversion. In fact, having watched it just last night I'm almost tempted to do so again, which must say something.

Last edited by Noumenon; 9th Jan 2008 at 2:58.
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Old 23rd Dec 2007, 23:57   #2
John Self
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Default Re: Inside Man

I thought this was OK. From my 2006 Film list:

12. Inside Man Spike Lee directs this beautifully shot and brilliantly scored heist movie starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and one significant twist (the clue is in the title, though not how you might think). It's shot through with implausibilities like all intricately plotted movies, but the real downfall is the unresolved and dissatisfying ending, where both the viciously sadistic robbers and the old Nazi profiteer get away with it. Oh and Jodie Foster's character is both annoying and ridiculous.
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Last edited by John Self; 24th Dec 2007 at 12:31. Reason: oops - spoiler reinstated
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 2:35   #3
Noumenon
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Default Re: Inside Man

Your spoiler is lacking there, JS!

I haven't watched it again after all, but I am going to and I'll bare your point about the ending in mind. I was vaguely dissapointed with the gang escaping in the finale, I always am and it often happens in this kind of film, although I thought the implication was that Mister Nazi was eventually going to get what he deserved.

I wondered if we were supposed to side with the gang as being "righteous" because the only person the stole from was Plummer, but I don't think any effort was made to explain how they knew about his big, diamond-ridden secret
. IMDb reveals that a sequel is in the works...

I seem to be revising all my film reviews scores downwards every time I add a new one, so don't be too surprised if this shows less sooner or later!
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