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With: Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Plummer, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Written by: Russell Gewirtz
Directed by: Spike Lee
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent images
Running Time: 129
Date: 03/16/2006

Inside Man (2006)

4 Stars (out of 4)

'Inside' Moves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If any old director-for-hire had made Inside Man it would have been a pretty good thriller. But Spike Lee makes it into something extraordinary.

On the surface, Inside Man is a crackerjack bank heist movie with a crafty villain, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and a cocky hero, Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) who somehow understand one another. The villain executes his precision plan -- to break into a safety deposit box containing mysteries decades old and heartbreakingly priceless -- and the hero waits him out, looking for holes in the plan's fabric.

A mysterious, icy woman (Jodie Foster) enters the fray, hired to keep the unknown artifact(s) from being stolen. Dalton throws out some very amusing red herrings and our good guys, Frazier's partner (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and police captain Darius (Willem Dafoe), almost have a good time playing along. It's like a movie to them.

Lee blasts through the familiar plot with exemplary skill, supercharging the suspense, using hand-held cameras effectively and even occasionally "cheating" and cutting ahead to the future when the gambit is over and the police are interviewing survivors. It's as entertaining a heist movie as Dog Day Afternoon (1975) or Quick Change (1990).

But this is where Inside Man turns great. Like Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour, the movie centers around a specific New York City community, only this time it has sprung up around an act of violence rather than an organic place of residence.

Faces with origins all over the world are present. A grumpy, turban-wearing Sikh works in the bank, and a Chinese man flirts with a Puerto Rican diva. An Albanian woman helps translate an encoded message. An elderly Jewish woman refuses to cooperate with her kidnappers. Even Terence Blanchard's brilliant score commences with a thumping Bollywood musical number enhanced by American hip-hop.

These loving, hateful people have bonded together into a huge, amalgamous, post-9/11 quilt. Violence and personal gain have become all-important and morals have become corrupted. Nearly every character commits some "crime" that falls into a shady gray realm. No one is innocent, but war profiteers and war criminals are seen as more guilty. The plot specifically alludes to WWII, but Lee allows his film to lean toward modern times.

Best Picture Oscar winner Crash directly told audiences its view of good and bad; Inside Man plays with the same ideas, but has a firmer grasp of both real life and on the transcendent art of cinema. Inside Man is a great movie and the best I've seen so far this year.

DVD Details: Universal's top-notch DVD comes with a making-of featurette (heavy on the clips from the movie, but also including footage of a read-through), a little sit-down conversation between Washington and Lee talking about their fourth collaboration, about 20 minutes of deleted scenes, and an unusually perky commentary track by Lee.

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