A Film Review By Jason L. King
Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster
Directed By: Spike Lee
Rated: R for language and some violent images.
Much to the dismay of many movie fanatics and a fellow critic on this site, I will be the first to say I don’t like Spike Lee films. When I see the phrase “A Spike Lee Joint” attached to a film, I normally turn the other way and try to take off running. Not because I think his “films” are terrible but because Lee tends to beat me over the head with a metaphorical baseball bat with each and every film I watch. Images of what seemed like 20 minutes of Barry Pepper trying to relate criminal Monty Brogan’s (Edward Norton) life to the events of September 11th in The 25th Hour still haunt my movie dreams to this day. Spike always tries to pack that political punch as well as provide you with entertainment. There is nothing wrong with trying to entertain and inform, but Lee’s political messages are about as subtle as being hit by a speeding locomotive.
Needless to say then when I saw the film, Inside Man, I had fairly low expectations. I mean the film looked nothing more like a typical run of the mill heist flick, complete with the superstar power of Denzel Washington and Clive Owen. But when you attached Lee’s name to the director spot, my only thought was, “What am I getting myself into?” To be honest I was pleasantly surprised. Lee created a suspenseful action flick that kept audiences guessing to the very end, with out blind siding you with the “not so subtle” stick.
What makes Inside Man work so well is the great star power of Denzel Washington and Clive Owen. Denzel plays the perfect adversary to our criminal mastermind (Clive Owen) as we try and figure out what really is going through Owen’s head as he is leading what he calls “The Perfect Bank Heist.” Denzel’s shining moments in this film are equally complimented by the commanding supporting performance by Clive Owen, who plays the perfect bad guy that knows a lot more than what he is going to let you in on.
Wonderfully cast is one thing, but hats should go off to the people who brought this story to life. The script has you guessing from start to finish as to who the bank robbers are, what their plan is and for that matter, just what exactly they are after. As a viewer the script allows us to side with both the hero and the villain, making us face a moral dilemma. As a viewer, do we want to see the bad guys get away with it? Owen does such a wonderful job of making his violent intentions and criminal actions so “sexy and cool,” that you want to root for the bad guy. On the other hand you have the smooth talking Denzel Washington, taking control of the situation on the outside, and you almost want to see him outsmart the bad guys as well. Decisions, decisions!
Where this film did go wrong is in two ways. First off, Lee added Jodie Foster in the role of a person with an “independent interest” in the resolution of the heist. Her role while necessary, lacked a lot of back story. At this point, I still don’t know exactly who she was. I know what she was sent to do, but then again- where do you get that job? That aside, Foster wasn’t in the film enough to make much more than a glorified cameo that could have been filled by any other no name actress in Hollywood. In my mind that’s a waste of talent.
The other thing that struck me as odd, was the “interrogation scenes” that were spread throughout the film. Lee tried to use the flashback stories of some of the hostages during the film as a way to present new ideas and to mix things up a bit. I found this whole thing more distracting and annoying than complimentary. Personally I think the film would have worked more seamlessly with out these little added “bookmarks” spread throughout the work.
All that aside though, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed “Inside Man.” Spike Lee brought me a film that was well, written, well cast and for the most part well directed. It kept me interested it’s entire span, kept me guessing and kept you on the edge of your seat. In a good action/heist flick, that’s what you want to see. I Finally found a Spike Lee film that has re-watch value!