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An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Inside Man (2006)

PUBLISHED: 17:28 27 September 2018

Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Spike Lee's taut thriller Inside Man. Photo: Universal

Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Spike Lee's taut thriller Inside Man. Photo: Universal

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Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different

Inside the vault in Spike Lee's heist movie Inside Man. Photo: UniversalInside the vault in Spike Lee's heist movie Inside Man. Photo: Universal

Inside Man; dir: Spike Lee; Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Kim Director, James Ransone, Peter Frechette Cert: 15 (2006)

This is Spike Lee’s first foray into big time mainstream blockbuster territory. This is a top notch heist movie with not only a grade A cast but an intriguing, first class script. Surprisingly, this tautly plotted script marked writer Russell Gewirtz’s big screen debut. It’s quite a calling card.

Being a Spike Lee film, this has a nice raw quality to both the visuals and the storytelling. Inside Man is all about executing the perfect robbery. The film is not really about who did it or why they did it, it’s more concerned with how they did it.

Jofie Foster as Madeline White 'The Fixer' in Spike Lee's heist movie Inside Man. Photo: UniversalJofie Foster as Madeline White 'The Fixer' in Spike Lee's heist movie Inside Man. Photo: Universal

Early one morning, four people dressed as painters walk into New York’s Manhattan Trust Bank and, within moments, take everyone inside hostage at gunpoint.

The robbery unfolds in a dizzying sequence of flashbacks, intercut with scenes of the police interrogating dozens of witnesses in an increasingly desperate attempt to identify the guilty parties. They needn’t be too concerned because the brains behind the operation is not afraid to unmask himself. Clive Owen plays the master criminal and makes contact with dodgy detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) in typically direct fashion. “My name is Dalton Russell. Pay close attention to what I say because I pick my words carefully, and I never repeat myself.”

This appears to be the perfect crime, an immaculately planned heist of a major Wall Street bank and yet something doesn’t seem quite right. The gang hasn’t planned a get away – at least not an obvious one. All they have done is lock the doors to the outside world and hole up with some 50 hostages inside.

Clive Owen as the mastermind behind the impossible heist in in Spike Lee's Inside Man. Photo: UniversalClive Owen as the mastermind behind the impossible heist in in Spike Lee's Inside Man. Photo: Universal

It’s the standoff between Owen’s team and the police which forms the heart of the story and what Lee and writer Russell Gewirtz have so much fun with.

There’s also an intriguing sub-plot involving bank president Christopher Plummer and enigmatic fixer Jodie Foster. Foster’s corporate fixer Madeline White is the sort of person who has connections all over New York.

Elderly philanthropist Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) has something in a vault that he wants to remain secret. It’s White’s job to make sure that those secrets do not emerge. Her influence is such that she can waltz, uninvited, into the Mayor’s office and get him to sign an order instructing the police ‘to extend to her every courtesy.’ This means that Denzel and his colleague, played by the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor have to share with her everything they know.

Jodie Foster and Denzel Washington mark their territory in Spike Lee's taut thriller Inside Man. Photo: UniversalJodie Foster and Denzel Washington mark their territory in Spike Lee's taut thriller Inside Man. Photo: Universal

It’s a dazzling performance from Foster, in a film filled with cracking performances, and it makes you wish that she acted a little more and directed a little less these days. The self-belief her character exhibits is glorious to behold. She is someone who is supremely comfortable inside her power suit.

Elsewhere Washington and Ejiofor have terrific rapport, making us believe that their friendship has been born of years working alongside one another. This is illustrated in a collection of fast, vibrant interrogation clips. It’s in the interaction between the characters that allows this complex tale to really zing into life.

What intrigues us as an audience is the unshakeable feeling that the robbers want to be trapped inside the bank. Clive Owen seems to be in no great hurry to make his escape. He seems to be dragging out negotiations by making seemingly impossible demands.

It’s this tricksy, convoluted plotting which keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. The story, with its red herrings, twists and turns, is wonderfully constructed, is one of the best heist/thrillers to come out of Hollywood for a long time. Like The Usual Suspects or Get Shorty its full of entertaining distractions and diversions but, as you would expect from a Spike Lee movie, once the last twist has been revealed we realise that the story is about something more meaningful than a straight forward bank robbery. It’s a double-edged modern classic.

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