Review by Paul Stathakis | April 6, 2006

Dal­ton Rus­sell (Clive Owen) enters a bank dis­guised as a painter. With spe­cial flash­lights, he is able to take out the secu­ri­ty cam­eras. He then fires a few rounds from his firearm to fright­en the peo­ple in the bank. He is not alone. There are four armed rob­bers in total. They ask every­one to lie down on the ground and to not move; a famil­iar request heard in vir­tu­al­ly all movies involv­ing a bank robbery.

The rob­bers point­less­ly toss smoke bombs in the bank. The smoke finds its way out­side the main doors and a street cop real­izes that some­thing is def­i­nite­ly wrong. He informs the police. The clever Detec­tive, Kei­th Fra­zier (Den­zel Wash­ing­ton), is assigned to inves­ti­gate the sit­u­a­tion, and his inten­tion is clear: free each and every cap­tive. But he soon notices that the thieves are stalling and none of the offi­cers seem to under­stand why. “You’ve seen Dog Day After­noon. Quit stalling,” says Fra­zier to Russell.

The rob­bers them­selves, led by Clive Owen, are no ama­teurs. They are quick to bolt the doors and force the hostages to strip down do their under­gar­ments. Each hostage wears a jump­suit, a mask, and a pair of black sun­glass­es so that police can’t dis­tin­guish the good guys from the bad guys. Smart, but why did the thieves decide to raid that par­tic­u­lar bank? What can they pos­si­bly hope to steal from its vault oth­er than a ton of money?

Inside Man is an ordi­nary thriller with a pay­off that is not at all ful­fill­ing. We are pre­or­dained to iden­ti­fy with Washington’s char­ac­ter, as we too want to under­stand the rob­bers’ motive. Thrillers nev­er let view­ers sim­ply be view­ers. Thrillers trans­form view­ers into inves­ti­ga­tors as you con­stant­ly try to guess the out­come, the mur­der­er, or the rea­son for the killing or rob­bery. As a result, your mind may devel­op a stronger out­come than the one offered here.

Spike Lee directs the film with a hand­ful of racial remarks in the script and inven­tive cam­er­a­work. Jodie Fos­ter has a role in the film as Madeleine Smith, but her part seems short. Clive Owen spends three quar­ters of the film wear­ing a mask, and Christo­pher Plum­mer is sup­posed to be play­ing a nine­ty year old man. But he does­n’t look nine­ty, and his role also seems trimmed down. The main attrac­tion is Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, who turns in a cred­i­ble per­for­mance as a stead­fast cop. Most of the key char­ac­ters are under­de­vel­oped and we don’t care much about them or what hap­pens to them. We know where the detec­tive comes from but bare­ly learn any­thing about the thieves or Madeleine.

Con­sid­ered to be Lee’s most com­mer­cial endeav­or, “Inside Man” uses all the tricks in the book to assem­ble an inspir­ing thriller. The film’s real win­ning moments are the one-on-one con­fronta­tions between Fra­zier and Russell.There is a scene in which Fra­zier enters the bank to “check up” on the hostages. “Mon­ey can’t buy you love,” says Rus­sell. Fra­zier sar­cas­ti­cal­ly replies, “Why thank you Mr. Bank Rob­ber.” The dia­logue is not inven­tive but the deliv­ery is. While the actors con­stant­ly lift our atten­tion away from the weak plot, we can’t help but spec­u­late about the heist, the rob­bers, and their objective.

Alfred Hitch­cock was the mas­ter of sus­pense. He did­n’t just make sus­pense­ful films. He told sus­pense­ful sto­ries. It was Hitch­cock that said, “When an actor comes to me and wants to dis­cuss his char­ac­ter, I say, ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my moti­va­tion?, ‘ I say, ‘Your salary.’” “Inside Man” has three impor­tant faces on the poster and we’re left to won­der if their moti­va­tion was any­thing but salary.


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