Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, and Christopher Plummer star in a film written by Russell Gewirtz and directed by Spike Lee.
Reviewed by Josef Woodard
Spike Lee likes to call his films “joints,” a personalized nod to the idea of a film as an atmospheric enclosure, a “place” where sights, sounds, premise, and X factors blend to create a unified whole. In Inside Man, Lee’s best film in years, said “joint” is akin to other recent films, including Phone Booth and 16 Blocks, which take dramatic advantage of a claustrophobic setting in lower Manhattan.
From the early scenes in the film, we’re deposited in the midst of a bank heist/“hostage situation,” and the ensuing two hours are both fraught with requisite tension and liberally lined with comic relief, humanity breaks, and even caulked with good old-fashioned Hollywood feel-good sauce. Somehow, it all comes together into a solidly entertaining package, and is refreshingly free of gratuitous mayhem or random acts of violence.
Quicker than you can say or think Dog Day Afternoon revisited (a film which a character makes a sly reference to), Inside Man begins re-shuffling its narrative deck and thickening its plot, courtesy of Russell Gewirtz’s fine script. The very title alludes to the complicated network of insider angles in the story, going straight to the top: Christopher Plummer, as the creepy bank founder, may be the most major villain of all. Chief caper-maker Clive Owen — all cool, steely resolve and stubbly anti-hero charm — bounces off the cunning facilitator Jodie Foster and the earthy mediator Denzel Washington, as the defusing detective on the case who digs deeper than expected.
A good genre-stretching bank-heist film, which this is, requires highly clever engineering, both in terms of the caper in the story and the careful schematic of the filmmaking. Lee neatly pulls off the latter, and in surprising ways, given that his films are often looser, more in keeping with the swing-lubricated jazz textures of his right-hand film composer, Terence Blanchard. This joint is a happening place to hang for a couple of hours.