Inside Man Review
By Joe Lozito
Savings and Groan
Like Richard Donner's recent "16 Blocks"
, Spike Lee's "Inside Man" features some wonderful location shooting in Manhattan. The opening credit sequence alone boasts some spectacular shots of lower Manhattan architecture. It's good to see these veteran directors taking it to the streets. I just wish they had better stories to tell.
"Inside Man" starts with a monologue by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), during which he outlines the whys and wherefores of his "perfect bank robbery." Dressed as painters, Dalton and his crew waltz into the bank lobby - itself an architectural gem - and quickly disable the cameras and subdue the hostages. Assigned to handle the case? None other than Spike Lee mainstay Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier. Mr. Washington is never difficult to watch. In fact, there are two moments when his character coughs for no apparent reason, but I'll be darned if even that isn't interesting. Unfortunately, there's not much else in the film that's as worthy of note.
The crux of Dalton's plan, it seems, is that the police will always go by the book. And, as he expects, they do. For almost the entire film. As a result, nothing happens that the audience hasn't seen a hundred times - hostage negotiations, lists of demands, etc. Worse yet, we're actually ahead of the characters for much of it. We can see all but the final twist coming for miles - and even that one's pretty easy to guess.
The screenplay by newcomer Russell Gewirtz feels so old that one of the main characters actually played a role in World War II. It doesn't help that the dénouement takes about twenty minutes to play out, long after the robbery is over. By that time the audience is through being spoon-fed details and just wants the have it spelled out already. With TV shows like "24" coming up with increasingly clever and realistic terrorism, it's hard to watch one of these "movie bank robberies" that never occur in reality.
This is easily the director's most mainstream effort. His credentials alone must be responsible for this powerhouse cast. Jodie Foster is on hand as a mysterious, and thoroughly unbelievable, plot contrivance. Christopher Plummer is on slow simmer as the bank's chairman. And even Willem Dafoe shows up in a thankless role as a police Captain. But, with a few notable exceptions, there's little of Mr. Lee's trademark style anywhere to be seen. And he is sorely missed.