"My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself."
It is so great to go to a movie and have it fulfill high expectations for one. The trailer and the television commercials for "Inside Man" piqued my curiosity, and since Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster signed on, and Spike Lee ended up directing the movie, I decided I had to go see the first showing the first day do that I could find out what exactly is the game going on with this bank robbery that is not a bank robbery. I figured that armed with the idea that the perfect crime is the one that you do not know has been committed,
Dalton Russell (Owen), the man who came up with this perfect crime, might not repeat himself, but the words he speaks into the camera at the beginning of the film are repeated when the revelation comes and you see the total audacity of his plan. This is one of those movies where somebody tells you what they are doing and it does not matter because you are probably not going to figure it out (okay, some people will, but they are either smarter than me or we are talking the old saying about blind hogs). Detective Keith Frazier (Washington), is in the hostage negotiator in charge, with fellow Detective Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor), at his side. The bank in question belongs to Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) and clearly the last thing he is worried about is the money that is there. So he contacts Madeliene White (Foster), who has always been the sort of woman who arranges thing for a nice but not necessarily small fee.
It takes Frazier a while to catch on that the guy in charge inside the bank is the smartest one in the game (or, at the very least, he has all of the angles figured out). Certainly when White comes away from her face-to-face with the masked man in the bank she knows that this guy is so far ahead of her she is never going to catch up. But a key thing here is that these are smart people, capable of making mistakes but also able to make the necessary connections that lead to explaining what the hell is going on here. Also, it was nice to see that the cops in this film were pretty competent for the most part, from the first cop on the scene to Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe), who is in charge of the tactical part of the operation. I was wondering if this might be post-9/11 good will, but actually it is necessary for the film to work: the cops have to be competent. The whole point is to beat them at their best.
The screenplay is written by Russell Gewirtz, and since this is his first filmed script he is either going to be one of the hottest scribes in Hollywood or he is going to spend the rest of his life trying to prove this one is no fluke. I think Spike Lee had a hand in some of the bits, simply because there are so few moments where "Inside Man" seems like a Spike Lee Joint and you remember who is directing this one (admit it: you were surprised this was a 40 Acres and Mule film). Things really move in this one and you never get the sense of it being a drawn out hostage crisis. Besides, it is also a way of not giving you time to figure out what is going on. Even when we get flashforwards to Frazier and Mitchell interviewing the hostages (or are they the criminals?), the film is not doing us any real favors.
Of course you want to try and figure out what is going on, because that is part of the fun. As soon as "Chaiyya Chaiyya" starts playing I am trying to figure out what sort of clue this song from the "Bombay Dreams" cast album has to do with the story. But Gewirtz is to us as Dalton is to the police; there is a point early one when you turn to each other and think you have spotted a key clue (off of the "Ten Little Indians" rule that if you do not see something, then it did not happen). But this is just one of several insidious red herrings, some of which are brilliantly put in the commercials. Afterwards if you stop and think about it you can find minor flaws in the story, but that is true of any such story. When the last act begins I leapt to a correct conclusion, which got me thinking that when Frazier completed his interviews he would come to the same conclusion, albeit by a different method. Even so, I seriously doubt that you will be disappointed by the way this one plays out.
There are a few moments when Lee gets a bit cute with what he is doing (e.g., Denzel on a moving platform), but he is allowed to indulge. Washington makes wearing a hat look good again and while the character Owen plays requires him to do the same sort of barely modulated monotone he always seems to be doing it is Foster who has the most fun playing a role without a scintilla of the vulnerability that are her trademark and reminding us there is a level beyond the b-word. She has the cold smile of a snake down pretty good. Final Note: As usual I was the only one who stuck around for all of the credits, but the totally addictive opening song comes back at the end, this time as a "Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint" variation. Since I still had ice left in my drink, I was able to shake it as an impromptu percussion instrument, but I still have no clue as to what it signifies for the movie.