Original Review Date: 4/14/2006
All is not what it seems in Inside Man, the most classically Hollywood movie to date from veteran director Spike Lee. One of the staples of Lee’s films, Denzel Washington, returns for his fourth filmwith the director, this time as New York Detective Keith Frazier, who is suspected of criminal activities. Inserting three-dimensionality into their supporting characters along side Washington’s Detective Frazier are a host of other A-list actors. Most note-worthy are Jodie Foster’s Madeliene White, an unscrupulous go-between for the city’s most powerful people and Clive Owen’s Dalton Russell, the obligatory “bad guy” and foil for Washington’s character in the film.
Inside Man is very Dog Day Afternoon-ish, so much so that Detective Frazier mentions the obvious parallels of that film to their present situation when Dalton Russell makes a particular demand of the New York Police Department. What sets this film apart from other “caper” films is how well written the principle characters are. Within one or two scenes, someone watching this film will know all they need to know about the main characters. They will know that Christopher Plummer’s Arthur Case, the head of Case Banks’ board of directors, has something he wants to keep hidden, that Madeliene White knows the art of being a good business person is being a good middleman, that Dalton Russell is no common bank robber and that Detective Frazier is going to use this opportunity to stabilize and advance his career.
Most of the social commentary found in Lee’s Do the Right Thing and his pulverizing Bamboozled are not present in Inside Man but the smear of their residue can still be seen by the observant viewer. In a scene between Dalton Russell and the child of one of his bank captives, a stereotypical video game involving African-Americans is played by the child to Russell’s dismay and bafflement. This was an obvious reference to Rockstar Games most notorious line of videogames, Grand Theft Auto, and how parents are oblivious to the types of violent games their children are playing. Lee also references a very special type of beverage found in Bamboozled at the end of Inside Man, clearly implying the effect it has on a person and their mental vitality.
Spike Lee’s Inside Man is an intelligent crime film populated by intelligent characters. It’s not as visceral or as vicious as Michael Man’s Heat and it’s not the classic that Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon is and was most likely never intended to be. Inside Man is a solid film that develops its characters, entertains and surprises its viewers.