Thursday, June 08, 2006


RATING: ****
RUN TIME: 129 min.

After watching INSIDE MAN, you got to ask yourself this question-Why don’t Spike Lee and Denzel Washington team up more often? It is an explosion whenever they’re together. INSIDE MAN is arguably one of the finest movies of its genre. It is a supremely intelligent thriller with twists and turns that will keep you guessing till the very end. And much more than that, it is a glorious return to form of two of the finest talents in Hollywood.
This is a genre where things get outdated real fast. The plot and the modus operandi have to be exciting and the most important is the presentation. You give old wine in a new bottle and people are going to love it. And on top of that the payoff at the end needs to be worthy enough of the money and time spent.
The most wonderful thing is that INSIDE MAN knows that and gives us much more from a genre that more often than not is nothing more than plain fun. The movie starts off with Dalton (Clive Owen) monologue explaining the questions involved in a bank heist. He explains the “who”, “where”, “why” aspects of the heist and leaves the how to unfold with the movie. The object of their desire is the first branch of the Manhattan Trust Bank opened way back in 1948. Enter detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are the hostage negotiators of the NYPD. There’s also John Darius (Willem Dafoe) as the cop in charge of the situation. The owner of the bank is Mr. Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) who is more concerned then necessary because the bank is holding some secret of his. So enter a mysterious figure Madeline White (Jodie Foster) who does operations behind the scenes. She is an influential personality as she doesn’t even need to take an appointment with the mayor of New York City. The initial frame itself tells us that the heist has been a success. So, how?
There are glowing references to DOG DAY AFTERNOON here, the best and the definitive movie of this genre. The entire sequence of the arrival of the police, the press and everything involved is a straight tribute to the same scene in DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Even Washington’s character tells Owen’s in reference to the latter’s demand for a bus and two jets-“You seen DOG DAY AFTERNOON. I know you are stalling.” And the scene of crime is also similar to the one in DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Then there is a reference to Clint Eastwood’s memorable one-liner from SUDDEN IMPACT
INSIDE MAN is supremely confident in its abilities that it even tells the outcome of the heist within the first reel- a success. And that is where we’re pulled in right inside INSIDE MAN. Watching the labyrinthine structure of the movie very much reminded me of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Although the plot here isn’t nowhere as foolproof or intelligent, the treatment very much is. This is Spike Lee’s first wandering into commercial cinema and it is a revelation as to how this genius unleashes the movie. There’s the stamp of authority, a hallmark of great directors. He creates a maze of events where all the pieces of puzzles are right before you and you only need to put them in place. And it is truly amazing how despite every detail being right in front of our eyes, we are intrigued and glued to the unfolding of events.
I always love movies like these where the pleasure to be gained is not from spectacular effects or blasts but nice actors interact. This is one of the biggest casting coups in recent years and it is a pleasure. The greatest joy for me watching movies comes while watching fantastic actors perform well and enjoy themselves. As far as I am concerned there is no greater joy in movies than watching a director at the top of his game or an actor performing well. INSIDE MAN is just that. Watching Washington, Foster, and Owen interact is a treat to watch. In fact this is the first movie in which I have liked Owen. In his other movies he came as an inert actor with absolutely no understanding of the movie. He wasn’t at all up to the challenge in KING ARTHUR and was a total dud in DERAILED. But here he shows why he is so highly rated among people. I would like him to come up with more of such performances. It also helped that the character perfectly suited his deep baritone and his quite demeanor. I would have liked him to be the next James Bond. But let us see how that chapter unfolds.
Denzel Washington in a role that he can sleepwalk through is fantastic. It is something with these great actors that they bring something extra to seemingly normal roles. And as with the best of Denzel movies, he is the main draw here. He is the man as you might say. His character is not on any moral high ground and he shows that. Plus he is funny as hell. He is one of the most stylish actors to grace the screen and all that is put to good effect here. I don’t remember a single bad performance from him and when he is enjoying his character that enough is worth the price of the admission ticket.
Jodie Foster is sinister with her smile put to fantastic results. She has this knack of doing roles that would be male characters in other movies. I guess she is the only actress around who can claim that. There is absolutely no background for her character and not even an explanation as to what she is. And still she manages to pass the exact message to the audience that she is one not to be messed with.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is just plain fantastic in the supporting role detective. Christopher Plummer as the aging bank owner is good as always. But one thing that struck me here was that according to the story he has to be at least 85 years old, if not more. If you ask me he looks nowhere near that age. That was one thing that irked me throughout the movie.
The movie isn’t just another heist movie. The topics of race and social tension are floating as if Spike Lee wants us to remember that it is still his movie. There is the Sikh bank official and the matter of his turban, there’s a child’s video game where a Negro is killing another Negro. Spike Lee wants us to experience what would be a heist like in a post 9/11 world. And that is the beauty of INSIDE MAN. The bank being robbed isn’t some casino or some place with hi-tech gadgetry but a simple bank in your neighborhood. The feel of neighborhood is what makes it a bit special as was captured quite wonderfully in PHONE BOOTH.
The screenplay as I said not as intelligent as say THE USUAL SUSPECTS. But Russell Gewirtz work is brilliant in its own way. It is intellectual in its own right. There is no one-dimensionality to the characters. Although no one would classify the film as a noir-ish tale the characters resemble one. Every character is so beautifully etched. And despite this all it has the tension and grip of the best heist movies you have seen. The thrill aspect of the movie is not derived from fast paced action but from intelligent dialogues and the intention of the characters.
The end payoff was one which wasn’t particularly satisfactory but still INSIDE MAN is worth your time. It is in fact worth twice your time.


Anonymous said...

I watched this movie twice.This is very fast paced and intelligent film.Particularly the dialogs are so witty,that the film manages to glue you to the seat.I would love to see more of Mr.Lee and Mr.Russel Gewirtz.

man in the iron mask said...

Satish Naidu-
We don't have to wait long for Russell Gewirtz's next film, which is going to be RIGHTEOUS KILL, the film that is going to star the two biggies- Al Pacino and Robert De Niro- on the same side of law for a change (forget The Godfather II). The film is under production and is going to be released somewhere in 2008