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Inside Man (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) is a bank robber who takes hostages, being pursued by NYPD Detective Keith Frazier (Denzell Washington), in this caper film directed by Spike Lee, who is clearly taking a sabbatical from his general modus operandi. Is a screwball comedy next for Spike? This is the fourth time Washington and Lee have worked together. Although it runs slightly longer than two hours, the film is confusing enough, despite a real lack of tension, to hold most peopleís interest.

It is diminished by the presence of Madeleine White (Jodi Foster), who is intended to be a mysterious, powerful power broker representing Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), who owns the bank Russell is robbing. She projects a friendly, outgoing, happy-go-lucky, wisecracking nature. Despite the high quality of Fosterís prior work, the personality she creates for White is incongruous. Her attitude reduces the tension that a movie like this should be producing in the audience. It just doesnít work here. But the fault is not Fosterís alone. Sharing the blame should be Director Lee and screenwriter Russell Gewirtz who created the role and orchestrated how it was played.

The script presents a well-considered story that has Frazier figuring that all is not what it appears, despite little evidence to lead him to that conclusion. There is so little substance to this film that thereís not much to say about it, except that it is entertaining. There is no complexity of character and virtually no character development. When the film ends, we know little more about Russell, Frazier, White, and Case than we did when the movie started. There is a strong implication of police corruption, but thatís becoming de rigueur for Hollywood these days. Willem Dafoe makes a nice appearance as Captain John Darius, but his character, like Fosterís, seems thrown in just to get another star appearance. Same with Chiwetel Ejiofor, who appears as Detective Bill Mitchell, Frazierís partner. He adds nothing to the story except to give Frazier someone with whom to speak. Thatís the main problem I had with this movie, to wit, why are these people there?

The film raises questions it leaves unanswered, like how does Russell know what he knows about Case? Russellís character is never explained; who is he? Why is he doing what heís doing? Who are his compatriots?

The story is told in an unusual, non linear manner, with flash-forwards to interviews with people involved in the robbery a la Warren Beattyís ďRedsĒ (1981). The best part of the movie is the cinematography by Matthew Libatique, that gives interesting vantage points and a tracking shot near the end of the film that is intriguing, but you have to be watching for it.

This is an undistinguished, but entertaining film.

March 23, 2006

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