Latest Spike Lee joint is a smart action thriller
Inside Man is a briskly engaging crime thriller with a whole bunch of surprisingly sharp edges to it.
It’s an exceptionally interesting vehicle for Denzel Washington, who has the chief protagonist role here, but that’s only part of the story. It’s also directed, with smoothly sardonic style, by Spike Lee—from a brilliantly complicated script by Russell Gewirtz. And the multiply-twisted plot yields up juicy offbeat roles for Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer and Clive Owen, each of whom plays one of the several variously conflicted antagonists in the tale.
The central premise involves a combination bank-heist and hostage crisis, with Washington playing the freewheeling NYPD hostage negotiator who is called in to take charge. But the first character we meet is Dalton Russell (Owen), the shrewdly devious mastermind behind what he insists will be a “perfect crime.” Corporate fixer Madeline White (Foster), a mastermind and negotiator of another sort, is called into the action a little later by banking mogul Arthur Case (Plummer), who has complicated reasons of his own for fearing that Russell and crew might have their sights set on something other than the money in his vaults.
The gradual unfolding of Russell’s elaborately convoluted scheme makes for an impressively multi-faceted kind of suspense. There’s an intriguing psychological edge to the increasingly complex mind games between Owen’s perplexing hold-up man and Washington’s boldly improvisatory negotiator. And the various interventions of Foster’s icily-efficient political fixer make the mixture of suspense and character ironies even richer.
Lee directs all this with considerable brio, and while he’s not working from one of his own scripts, he manages a very lively blend of action-movie professionalism and auteur-style observations. Inside Man succeeds throughout both as a funny, violent, suspenseful action movie and as a smart, socially-alert character drama. The Lee touch seems especially evident in the film’s recurring reflections on New York City as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic stew.
Owen makes an intriguingly ambiguous villain, and Foster’s steely performance adds much to the film’s conning-the-con-man psychology. And Washington cuts no corners in presenting his character’s own peculiar mix of deviousness and integrity.