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Inside Man is one of those big movies with big stars that usually come out at memorial day or the 4th of July. It's a bank robbery thriller starring Denzel Washington (5 Oscar nominations, 2 wins), Jodie Foster (4 Oscar nominations, 2 wins), Clive Owen (1 Oscar nomination), Willem Dafoe (2 Oscar nominations) plus Christopher Plummer who, strangely, has never been nominated despite 150 roles in movies from The Sound of Music to Syriana. Who is the director of this big-budget Hollywood movie? Spike Lee. Spike Lee? Yes, Spike Lee. It's seems like just yesterday when he burst on the scene with She's Gotta Have It. But that was 20 years and 20 films ago. And Spike Lee is a hell of a director, so it's cool to see him do a mainstream movie like this.
Inside Man tells the story of a man (Clive Owen) who takes over a Manhattan bank and 50 hostages in broad daylight with his gang of Steve, Stevie and Steve-O (Kim Director, Carlos Andrés Gómez, James Ransone). The hostage negotiators (Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejiofor) are called in and together with a Police Captain (Willem Dafoe), try to free the hostages. It soon becomes apparent that this is not a normal bank robbery. The robbers seem to have trapped themselves in the bank on purpose. And soon a shadowy character (Jodie Foster) appears on the scene representing the interests of the bank president (Christopher Plummer). Money, it seems, was not the motive. But what was it? Well, you'll have to see the movie to find out. But Owen, Foster and Plummer all seem to be more interested in the contents of a certain safety deposit box than in all the piles of money lying around.
Denzel Washington, Spike Lee's favorite leading man, is great as always, although he is great like Jack Nicolson is great. He always plays the same basic character but he does it really well. Inside Man is a big improvement on Washington's last outing, Man on Fire, where he sleepwalked through the whole movie and Dakota Fanning acted rings around him. Owen doesn't hurt his new sexy leading man image here. He is very good even though he has almost as hard a task as Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta. Through much of Inside Man, Owen, along with Steve, Stevie and Steve-O, is disguised with baseball hat, sunglasses and a balaclava. There a reason for this but I don't want to spoil it. The members of this gang are definitely Steves, not Stu's. Dafoe (Platoon, Spider-Man), Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things, Love Actually) and Foster represent some amazing acting talent, but their supporting roles don't really tax their acting chops. Plummer is smooth and unruffled as always.
Inside Man is a very well put together film that keeps you guessing right to the end about why the robbers are in the bank, and whether they will get away with whatever it is they are doing. The direction by Lee is seamless. He is a real pro although can't stop shooting those scenes where the main character (Washington) glides down the street on a dollie. Enough already! But the movie flows beautifully as the battle of wills between Owen, Foster and Washington heats up. The pace of the movie is purposely slow but it doesn't waste any time as the tension is slowly ratcheted up. And the plot holds together pretty well. I love these kind of stories but often like in Jodie Foster's last film, Flightplan, the holes in the plot are so big you can drive a truck through them. Inside Man gives you all the information you need to figure out the ending, if you want to try. You won't feel cheated walking out of the theatre.