Movie Review: Inside Man
Remember Superfly, that blaxploitation pic from the early 70s? It was notable in that the soundtrack out-grossed the movie itself, a feat I’m not sure has been repeated since. As well as some seminal music from Curtis Mayfield, the movie also had some killer dialogue. Youngblood Priest, the coke-dealing hero(?) is planning one last drug deal to set himself up so he can quit the mean streets of the ghetto. His buddy doesn’t want him to quit, imploring him; “Why you wanna quit Priest? You got an 8-track stereo and a colour TV in every room. You’re living the American dream!”
Priest’s character is the prototype for the “get rich or die trying” archetype that has infected a whole generation of American rappers and Spike Lee’s latest flick, Inside Man, isn’t afraid to draw heavily on that ethos. In Lee’s movie, however, Denzel Washington’s detective character is the only person in the film trying to get rich without breaking the law. He wants to do it by making Detective First Grade and successfully resolving a Dog Day Afternoon style bank heist with dozens of hostages may be just the opportunity he needs to achieve this.
This is a delightfully noodly film with plenty of plot holes but enough intriguing aspects to make it well worth a look. Lee loves New York and the movie is as much a homage to the city and the nuances of its residents as it is a bank caper.
The lead bank robber is played by Clive Owen who turns in his usual wooden performance but he doesn’t need to carry the film so it doesn’t matter too much. Things quickly evolve into a siege situation at the bank with the robbers barricading themselves inside with the hostages; but things aren’t all they appear to be.
The bank’s owner, played by Christopher Plummer, is taking an unusual interest in proceedings and is very keen to protect a mysterious safety deposit box inside the bank. It turns out that the box contains documents showing how he colluded with the Nazis to make his fortune upon which the bank is founded (so all that singing “Edelweiss” with Julie Andrews was just a sham!).
Memo to Nazi collaborators: If you possess documents implicating you in WW II atrocities, consider burning those documents rather than storing them in a bank.
Anyway, he hires uber-fixer Madeleine White, played by Jodie Foster, to negotiate with the robbers directly to try and get the box before its contents can be made public. Foster’s character, as well as wearing some very nice heels, isn’t too troubled by ethical issues. We first see her negotiating with Osama bin Laden’s nephew to help him buy a Manhattan condo. With her moral coordinates thus duly established, she proceeds to initiate some shady dealings with the robbers. Washington’s detective character is impossibly out of his depth in this tangled situation, which is a large part of the movie’s attraction.
He’s also impossibly laid-back for most of the movie, being incongruously completely-at-ease during a fistfight with one of the robbers, which more resembles a drug-addled play-wrestle. He’s also overly sophisticated in his dealings with the white uniformed cops who are, of course, racist nitwits. The chief offender here is Willem Defoe, who reprises the role of dumb-ass cop he played in American Psycho some years back. Interestingly, Washington’s detective does a lot of coughing. I didn’t mind it as it gave it a kind of reality feel. Or maybe he really had a cold at the time.
As a police procedural, the movie is very enjoyable, with our detective hero bumbling his way through the nefarious machinations of the other characters to a nebulous but nevertheless enjoyable ending. It’s worth a look, if only to hear Clive Owen butcher an American accent.