Inside Man Review
Not your typical heist movie, or is it? With a stellar cast including Oscar winners and nominees Washington, Foster and Owen, we rightly expect something by the by… and then it clunks into our busy heads that it’s “A Spike Lee Joint” Fantissimo.
It starts fairly promptly with the chimes of A. R. Rahman classic Chaiyya Chaiyya, and Dalton Russell (Owen) explaining what he wants to do [rob] why wants to do it [because he can] and what spools in the next 14 reels is the how. He is unusually sharp and straight to the point but his real motives remain something of an enigma, a little like himself. As he and his team walk in to a Manhattan Bank, take hostages and ready themselves to rob the bank, things aren’t quite as they seem.
Enter Detective Frazier (Washington) and a cat and mouse game ensues between the nemeses, with the former gaining his chance for notoriety and to clear his name from a previous alleged misdemeanour. Frazier and his partner (Ejiofor) seem incredibly amateurish though for highly-trained hostage negotiators. A criminally under-utilised Foster then enters the fray as power broker / fixer Madeliene White. Though her pushy thoroughly dislikeable character is better less seen. When she does intervene you expect sparks to fly in her interactions with Washington and Owen, sadly we’re left with far less a whimper than a bang. That also seems to be the case with the entire movie.
It doesn’t feel like a tautly cut heist, edge of your seat thriller, or simply a drama that keeps you engaged. It does, but simply as you’re waiting for the revelation, the twist, the pay-off… or pink elephant? We see interviews with the hostages throughout the movie, giving an insight into the eventual outcome, whilst dampening the potential for suspense. But the outcome itself is interestingly serene, chilled, more Hmmmm than Whoaaa!!
The leads have been party to such excellence in the past, we expect nothing less. I don’t even need to ply you with the CV’s of our three leads and director, they more than speak for themselves, and so we do expect a lot. Does it deliver? Kind of… Do they deliver? Ditto.
When you see it through Lee’s tints, you can see where references to racial ignorance, his usual caricatures of perennially greedy Jews, and corrupt people in power dealing with the middle-east come in. This is also his attempt at the action genre, and Lee surely leaves his mark. It isn’t full of cliché’s but can tend to be a tad drab, with surprises which at times you wish were scarier, stronger, more shocking. I would simply call this ‘safe’. Lee’s strength has always been his characters, and that is essentially the hook of the movie. The various characters are pretty well-defined in their own right, and fine in their own milieu’s. But the interplay when their worlds collide and they are forced to co-exist and interact in such extreme circumstances is interesting to behold, and ultimately what keeps us glued.
Owen is calm, focused, cynical yet belligerent whilst Foster plays super-bitch to the hilt. Washington on the other hand plays an intelligent detective more than aware of his mortal and moral existence, and the flaws within. I have an issue with that, I guess for me Washington has been an epitome of the greater good, the righteous, and to see him playing a sell-out here, and winning an Oscar for playing an utter bastard in Training Day, doesn’t sit too well. In fact the only character to have any real integrity, and the only person you have sympathy for is the least likely candidate… I guess I don’t like Washington playing such morally incongruous, infallible real characters, stick the halo back on dude. And Willem Dafoe, I mean Jesus Christ man – what was the point??
After the heist, the movie’s denouement is distended by a further half hour at which point you really begin to question the point of it all. The screenplay isn’t unfortunately able to rise to the performance of its irrepressible leads, it simply isn’t clever enough. It is the performances themselves that carry the movie, well something had to. This includes Washington’s morally ambiguous tired Detective, whilst Owen subtly tears up the screen with his steely subdued ‘intelligent’ menace. The title itself throws you one way, the intermittent interviews with hostages tease you furthermore, but the climax is markedly under-whelming – though thankfully, unexpectedly it throws you off-skelter yet again. Clichéd, but only in a Spike Lee way.
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