Inside Man

One of the last things most people would expect Spike Lee to do is to helm a popcorn movie. Yet, with Inside Man, that is exactly what he does. Lee (She Hate Me, The 25th Hour) tends to gravitate towards movies of substance that want to say something. The Inside Man is movie about a hostage situation at a bank. It's pure entertainment, and it works because Lee is the person at the head of the film. Thus far, 2006 has not been a great year for movies. Part of this is just because the beginning of the year tends to bring out bad movies. Inside Man is a taut engaging thriller with good performances from excellent actors, and just a bit of Lee's standard racial politics to up the tension and add some more substance to the plot.

Dalton Russell (Clive Owen, The Pink Panther, Derailed) looks into the camera as the film begins and introduces himself. He planned the perfect robbery of Manhattan Trust. He and his crew dressed up as painters, quickly secured the building, and took everybody inside as hostages. They forced everybody to change into similar clothing, then effectively managed the police. The detectives assigned to the hostage situation are Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington, The Manchurian Candidate, Man on Fire) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Serenity, Four Brothers). Frazier immediately knows that something is amiss. Russell is not acting like a typical hostage taker. Frazier believes that something else is happening.

Cementing this suspicion is the appearance of Madeline White (Jodie Foster, Flightplan, A Very Long Engagement). White is working for Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer, The New World, Syriana), the owner of the bank. She is somebody who people hire to fix problems. He wants her to retrieve some 'sensitive' materials from a safety deposit box. Frazier knows none of this, only that the mayor walked in and told him to give White access to nearly everything. All of this sets up a giant test of wills between all of the principals. Everybody is after something, and the only person whose intentions are clear is Frazier.

Lee and screenwriter Russell Gewirtz keep a tight leash on everybody. Things move extremely quickly, and the mood stays extremely intense. Washington, Owen, and Foster all turn in strong performance. All are Type-A personalities who do not like others encroaching upon them. Even better is that they are all awash in ambiguity. Nothing is as easy as good or bad. At the beginning of the film, the viewer learns that Frazier is under investigation for stealing $140K from a prior case. Russell seems bad (he is robbing a bank) and White immoral because she is up for sale for the highest bidder. But as the story unfolds, things become less clear. Each person has his/her own ulterior motives, and black and white becomes gray. Tension is everywhere, and it only helps the story move along. And again, this is all because of Lee. Inside Man is a movie that only wants to entertain the audience. Lee is a filmmaker who knows how to put a film together. Usually, he's making a more serious film. Here, he turned his attention to something a bit lighter, and the result was good.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 8 minutes, Rated R for language and some violent images.

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