Caper Joint

Inside Man

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
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.


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